Mike Maker came to Marist expecting a challenge.
He proudly took on the task of working to lead a team that had never advanced past the MAAC tournament semifinals. And in every season before this one that Marist had been in the MAAC, the Red Foxes had failed to sweep the Buffalo trip, until Maker gave it a try.
“In the 18 years Marist has been in the MAAC, it’s the first time we’ve ever swept that trip and there’s been some particularly good teams here in the MAAC,” Maker said. “As good as they were, that group never swept that trip to western New York. So for this group to do it with everything we’ve been through, that speaks volumes about their character.”
Chavaughn Lewis scored a career-high 35 points at Canisius to propel the Red Foxes in the victory that completed the sweep. After missing three games in December with an ankle injury, the 6’5″ senior has stormed back and helped Maker’s team in almost every way.
“I think Chavaughn’s one of the best players to wear a Marist uniform,” Maker said. “We asked him to do everything with the absences of Khallid [Hart] and T.J. [Curry] for most of the season. We moved him from small forward to a guard and he was guarding the opponent’s best player.”
“We’re asking him to do everything, and he’s a little worn out, so we’ve given him some off days to try to recoup that slender build he has. I absolutely love the kid, I mean, he’s a phenomenal kid. He comes from a great family, his mom raised him right. He’s a high volume scorer, but there’s more there than meets the eye.”
Since returning Lewis has continued his assault on the school’s record book. He sits 29 points short of second place on the all-time scoring list, behind Rik Smits who earned NEC Player of the Year twice before being drafted by the Indiana Pacers. Lewis will also likely be in contention to be an All-Met selection after grabbing their player of the week honors. He would be the first for the Red Foxes since Ryan Schneider in 2009.
Because the team had to absorb so many injuries, Maker said a few weeks ago that it felt like November. Hart and Curry have returned from their injuries and are now in a groove offensively. Just weeks earlier Maker said he installed some of their special packages for their better players, and since then the Red Foxes have won three straight, something they hadn’t done since they won five in a row in the middle of last season.
“If there’s a silver lining in everything that we went through, with regards to the injuries, it was the development of K.J. [Lee],” Maker said about the freshman, who has averaged 4.8 ppg. “He’s logged so many minutes, as a result of their injuries, and gotten so much better that he’s a more effective player.”
Marist ranks in the bottom of the conference in offensive and defensive rebounds per game. Canisius grabbed 28 offensive rebounds against the Red Foxes, which is something their inexperienced big men will have to improve upon if they can make a deeper run come March.
“It’s a new system we’re still getting comfortable with and I thought for the first time all year we were efficient offensively this week with what we’re trying to do,” Maker said. “We’re getting better defensively, but the big Achilles heel for this team will be the rebounding.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He 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.