In just over one year as head coach at Marist, Jeff Bower has experienced almost all of the highs and lows of his profession.
After absorbing one of the worst starts in school history, starting 0-9 and not looking very good doing it; the Red Foxes ripped off a five-game win streak capped with a three-point win over Canisius. Through MAAC play Marist played five games decided by three points or fewer, winning four of them, all except their first round MAAC tournament game against Niagara.
“I think we established a foundation for us moving forward that we’re going to be able to build on,” Bower said. “We went from playing with no expectations in the beginning of the year to creating expectations and competing for the fifth spot in the conference, down to the end. That was a set of experiences that this group had never been through so it was a great learning experience for us.”
The more the Red Foxes adapted to the new system, the more they flourished. Senior Jay Bowie broke out through conference play as a scorer and Adam Kemp dominated “at times” as Bower said. Those pieces, along with juniors T.J. Curry, Chavaughn Lewis, and redshirt freshman Khallid Hart came together as the season went on.
Finals could not come fast enough for Marist, after absorbing a nine game losing streak to open the season. Bower said they played well at times during the stretch, but made too many mistakes to win any of their games, which included an overtime loss in St. Thomas at the Paradise Jam. However, a trip to the College of Charleston and a 69-62 victory netted the Red Foxes’ first time they reached an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) over 50%. They would accomplish that feat in 10 of their final 22 games.
“We got better as individual players, which led to better team play and we grew more comfortable playing with each other, understanding how to play within a team concept,” Bower said. “That led to better individual performances as well, so in all the circle was never broken.”
One reason this group could have higher aspirations next season will be thanks to the MAAC Rookie of the Year, Hart, who after being forced to redshirt from what he called a freak injury, worked his way back to health and was an impact scorer. He led all MAAC freshman in scoring with 14.7 points per game, as well as in free throw percentage at 79%.
“He did a terrific job throughout the course of the season and he had to play heavy minutes at a position that has a tremendous amount of responsibility for us,” Bower said. “His improvement was steady and it was consistent and we would expect him to continue to grow and improve as we put more experience and more additional players around him.”
Marist will return their starters at their first three positions next season, as Curry, Hart and Lewis will all be back. Their entire rotation returns except for Bowie, Kemp and Pieter Prinsloo who graduate, and the Red Foxes have five open scholarships which they can use to lock up their recruiting class of 2014 during the April signing period.
“We’re happy to have them all returning, all hungry and eager to work this spring and to get better,” Bower said. “We’re excited about the prospects of new players that we’ll have joining our team in the future, that we think will eventually add skill sets and talents to help us move forward along with the returning guys.”
Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.