Marist head coach Jeff Bower knew he was challenging his team early through the non-conference slate.
Taking on a difficult schedule out of the league as well as playing the presumed top two teams in the MAAC in December only added to the adversity Bower wants his team to fight through in his first season as head coach. Despite the winless start, Bower said he has seen his players improve against tough teams.
“I think the ability for our players to understand that they’re getting better and they’re improving while they’re playing against strong competition is really at the front of everything,” Bower said. “Who we’re playing and how we’re doing and where the payoff will be for us in big picture is a challenge, but I’m pleased with how we’ve handled everything so far. I thought we competed very hard against both Manhattan and Iona in the last two games and there were many bright spots for us to point to and build off of in those games.”
The Red Foxes have lost games on the road at St. Joseph’s and Providence as well as dropping three games in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands to start 0-9. They are amongst four teams that remain winless in Division I.
Bower actively wanted to challenge his group and he said he has seen signs that they have been up to the challenge even though the wins aren’t there.
“It’s been a challenge that most teams will find challenging, but I think we’re handling it well and moving along,” Bower said noting the Manhattan and Iona rank amongst the best team’s they have played in non-conference play so far this year.
“Sure everyone would like instant gratification and the sudden feedback of a victory, I mean that, our guys are no different, but when it doesn’t come your inner strength is tested to have the resolve to keep on working and to keep putting yourself in position for better days. That’s what our message is and what our approach is every day.”
With Isaiah Morton’s departure from the team the opportunity to further fill the starting point guard spot had been redshirt freshman Khallid Hart’s opportunity as well as T.J. Curry. Bower said that junior Manny Thomas provided a lift in their home loss to Manhattan.
Marist has struggled this season particularly with their shooting percentages on offense, ranking near the bottom of the country in field goal percentage from three-point and two-point range. Bower acknowledged the problem, but said that he is happy with the shot selection the starters have had so far.
“Our starters are all getting the type of shots that I’m comfortable with and they’re comfortable with, we just have to start converting them into scoring opportunities,” Bower said. “We shot very low percentages across the board, the entire starting unit, which has made it hard, but in spite of those numbers we’ve defended well and we’ve played hard. When the ball starts to drop, the game will get a lot easier.”
Bower said he is looking for more out of his triumvirate of captains, seniors Jay Bowie, Adam Kemp and junior Chavaughn Lewis, to help get them past their struggles.
“I think they’ve done well and I think they’ve got a lot more in them to bring out,” Bower said of how he would evaluate his captains through nine games. “I think they’ve been solid right now and I’m looking for bigger things from them as we continue on. I think they’re certainly capable of that.”
Kemp has struggled to start the season, making just 42-percent of his two-pointers and getting to the free throw line just 20 times after getting there a career-high 156 times last year.
“What we have to find is that balance between those few games, that he played at that level [last season], versus other games that he played and find out who what the consistent level of production is going to be,” Bower said of Kemp. “I don’t expect him to be at that level all season, but I do expect him to be higher than he’s produced so far this season and that gives us all reason for optimism.”
The Red Foxes have a chance to get their first win of the season at the College of Charleston on Sunday, before closing out the calendar year at home with Bucknell and Penn.
Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and America East conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.