Coming off a sound defeat on the road at Vermont, Marist was equally—if not more so—humbled in its MAAC opener.
“Well that was an absolute clinic today,” Marist head coach Mike Maker said. “I’ve been around a long time, 29 years, and I’ve been humbled a few times and today is one of them.”
The Red Foxes led twice, after a bank-shot three-pointer from Kristinn Palsson to open the scoring and a K.J. Lee right wing three, but Iona used a 21-2 run to erase that and a 13-0 second half run to effectively send Marist to its third straight loss.
“I feel like when you play them you have to outscore them,” Maker said. “I had no answers defensively: man, zone, try and deny A.J. [English]. They’re really well coached and they have a lot of talent so a lot of credit to them.”
The night did not begin well for the Red Foxes—or even the day. Freshmen Isaiah Lamb and Brian Parker were late arrivals to the team’s shoot around, which led to their subsequent exit from the game’s starting lineup hours later. Yet Parker battled with the Gaels and learned some tough lessons on playing the MAAC’s best team, to this point, scoring 16 points, but committing three of the Red Foxes’ 17 turnovers.
Khallid Hart led the team with 18 points of his own, but it was a struggle to get going for the guard, who didn’t generate many touches early and whose first points ended a 14-0 Gaels run. Even the easy ones for the 6’2″ junior had a chance of disaster on them, as he picked up a steal late and went for a transition dunk, the ball rattled in the cylinder before falling through – with the guard almost with a helpless look should the easy two not fall home. It was a tough night for the junior, even after seeing English’s first half ending jumper miss the mark he spiked the ball after the buzzer sounded.
“I talked to the coaches all the time about my emotions and trying to keep them in check,” Hart said. “For me that’s hard to do, I’m passionate about this game, I love it and at times they just come out whack.”
“I’ve been talking to coach and because we both are, like the same person, we wear our emotions on our sleeve and it shows. Going forward I won’t be spiking the ball anymore and I just have to work on my character on the court, when things aren’t going right, even though it’s not in like a negative way. I just want to win, I’m competitive and that’s just who I am.”
Hart and Maker both wear their hearts on their sleeve on the floor and the head coach knows he will have to rely on his veteran leader.
“It’s a lot we’re asking a lot of him, I don’t want to wear him out,” Maker said. “We have, on a calendar to be honest with you moving forward, we have predetermined dates already for him not to practice, already because we’re not going too successful without Khallid Hart.”
Here are three Marist thoughts from the defeat that sent them to a 1-4 record:
Red Foxes Searching for Extra Options: Maker made it clear after the game; in order for the Red Foxes to pick up more wins they will need at least a third option to start helping Hart and Parker.
“I think we, at times, sometimes rely on them so much,” Maker said of the guard duo. “They’re both wearing superman capes for us right now. I think we need to find some other guys that can help alleviate some of that burden that they may feel.”
One of those players Maker would like to see become that option would be freshman Ryan Funk, who he said led them in scoring in one of their secret scrimmages early in the season. Funk saw time early, but the second year head coach was adamantly working to get the 6’5″ wing the ball late to see how he played. One of those points included an emphatic one-hand dunk after driving down the left baseline.
“Every time his number’s been called, he’s performed very well,” Maker said of Funk, who finished with nine points and four rebounds in 14 minutes. “He’s making it very, very hard not to play him more.”
Maker would like the Red Foxes to have multiple players who can fill in and score 10-plus points, and there is a chance the bench could develop two of those players, but until then it will be a by committee approach to try and find who can play: 11 Red Foxes registered over four minutes on the night.
“I think sometimes that’s going to be a revolving door for us right now, until we have that consistent guy,” Maker said of hoping to find their third scorer. “We’re looking for that guy.”
No Game Plan Would Stop Iona: If the Gaels continue at their 101-point per game pace, it will be difficult for any team to stop them. Maker planned to keep them away from the three-point line, but failed to do that as they hit just under 50% of their three-pointers.
Maker watched the film from Tuesday, saw Fairfield open in zone and elected to not go that route, but the Gaels found their soft spots anyway and managed to create enough open looks to punish the Red Foxes defense.
“You pick your poison, so we decided to take away the three-point arc because they shoot 39% from three, well today they were 48%, I thought it opened up space for other good players,” Maker said. “I don’t know anybody who’s going to stop Iona at our level from scoring points, now we can’t let them get to the century mark, hopefully the next time we play them they’re at 80, 85 maybe because we have a better plan, we’re a little better offensively.”
“My philosophy is to attack early and it gives them more possessions, maybe I have to look at that to shorten the game against a very talented team, I don’t know. We have a lot of work to do to work on us before we get to them the next time.”
The Red Foxes see the Gaels next in New Rochelle on Jan. 9.
Chance to Even Up in MAAC Sunday: The best thing about Friday’s defeat might just be that they have a quick turnaround to Sunday to play at Manhattan; it means forget this loss. The schedule, on paper, does not look easy: play the regular season champion followed by the tournament champion, but the Red Foxes welcome the challenge.
The two teams we open with, in the league, have played for the title the last three years, but personally I’m looking forward to that opportunity,” Maker said. “You take your licks, I’m not embarrassed at all, I’m really proud of how our guys kept playing through a very difficult night, in regards to playing that talented of a team this early in the season.”
The Red Foxes have just as good a chance to even their record, even if their most recent history in Riverdale has not been as successful. The Jaspers’ roster is reeling from injuries after two straight double-digit losses to Fordham and Siena. Manhattan played nine scholarship players on Friday night, but scored a season-low 54 points in a blowout loss in Albany.
“Tomorrow we have to move on because we have to play Manhattan and start preparing for their defensive style,” Hart said. “I think, after tonight, we just have to move on put this game behind us and then looking forward to Sunday.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.