Things could only look up for first year head coach Jeff Bower and his Marist Red Foxes as they beat Penn on Sunday to close the first two months of the season.
After absorbing an 0-9 start, Marist closed an eight-day period with wins at the College of Charleston, at home over Bucknell, and on Sunday it used a 21-2 run and eight first half three-pointers to distance themselves from the Penn Quakers by a 76-62 margin at McCann Arena.
“Three games and three wins is as good as we could hope for,” Bower said. “It’s good. It’s all about the next game and it’s all about the climb towards improvement.”
Redshirt freshman Khallid Hart tied his career-high with 21 points, set earlier in the season at Providence, making eight of 11 field goals in 31 minutes.
“My teammates were putting me into good spots for me to play make,” Hart said. “I saw the lane, I tried to draw people, if not score it, but my teammates put me in the right position.”
Hart passed up a possible dunk when he passed the ball ahead to T.J. Curry for a layup in transition. Curry missed the layup, but Hart trailed the play and tipped the ball in for a three-point play to put the Red Foxes up 61-39.
“I told them in the timeout the play of the game was made by Khallid Hart where he had a clear path to the basket, could have went up and dunked it, instead gave it to T.J. to give him the chance, but then kept coming,” Bower said. “Sure enough what happens, T.J. misses the layup, but Khallid was up to the rim to follow it and get fouled and go to the foul line. Somehow that seemed like a fair reward for unselfish play.”
Adam Kemp notched his first double-double of the season; the senior recorded 12 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks.
“I feel in great shape right now, just mentally,” Kemp said. “I have a much better mindset than some of the other games before where I was much more passive. Put those two things together and I feel personally I’ve been playing much stronger.”
Manny Thomas drained four first half three-pointers, three of which helped turn a two-point deficit into a game controlling 17-point lead. The Red Foxes extended their lead as large as 25 in the second half.
Thomas said that after watching the Marist women’s team upset #20 Oklahoma 76-69, that he had to get shots up in the gym with his teammates.
“I just was thankful that my teammates saw me open,” Thomas said. “I was really motivated last night after watching the Oklahoma game against Marist. I just had to get in the gym and get up shots last night and working with Chavaughn and Khallid and it carried over into today.”
The Red Foxes reached over one point per possession in the first half by a wide margin, making 1.38 points per possession and taking a 47-24 lead into halftime.
“We made good use of turning defensive stops into points,” Bower said of the “efficient” first half. “Any time you shoot three-pointers you get a great chance to get over that magical mark.”
“Efficiency is what we try to talk about with our guys, as far as not only in scoring, but in effort. We talk about make your work count for something, it’s a shame to work as hard as they work, but come up empty. Be looking to reap the benefits of all that you’re investing, whether it’s effort, intensity, unselfishness.”
Four Red Foxes scored double-digit points in the effort, junior Chavaughn Lewis added 14 points and six rebounds, but made just four of 17 shots from the field.
Marist has won three in a row for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 regular season when they defeated VMI, Siena and Fairfield to close the 2012-13 season.
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.