Khallid Hart, Marist Hoping Patience Pays Off In MAAC

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Winning a non-conference game over what might be the worst team in the Ivy League at the moment isn’t usually classified as a “program” win, but when you have the recent history of Marist and have to fight back from adversity a couple times to prevail in double overtime, well.

“Things didn’t go our way,” head coach Mike Maker said. We could have folded twice and we didn’t. And that’s why I’m really proud of our guys.”

Things have been rough in Poughkeepsie pretty much since Matt Brady left in 2008 for James Madison after four successful seasons. The Red Foxes haven’t had a winning season since, went 1-29 in 2009-10, and recently went through three coaches (Chuck Martin, Jeff Bower, and Maker) in three seasons, which doesn’t exactly foster continuity or consistency.


Maker (who has had to deal with plenty of personal adversity in the last year) knows the last two points are key, which is why he (coming from a military family) has gone as far as to practice how his team stands during the national anthem. He was 7-25 in his first season, and it didn’t help that his two best players missed time with injuries. Senior Chavaughn Lewis probably deserved a better fate, the number of coaching changes and systems meant one of the MAAC’s top players graduated last May without any real team success to speak of.

Khallid Hart is 10th in the nation in scoring and has averaged 30 points in his last three games
Khallid Hart is 10th in the nation in scoring and has averaged 30 points in his last three games

The second-year head coach, who was an assistant at West Virginia and Creighton before taking over at Division III Williams, is determined not to let the same happen to his current star Khallid Hart. After scoring a career-high 37 and making several key plays down the stretch in Marist’s 84-83 win over Brown at Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday night, Hart is now 10th nationally in scoring (22.9 ppg). He is averaging an even 30 in his last three outings, but most importantly the last two have ended in Marist victories, moving the Red Foxes to 4-6 (1-1 in the MAAC), only the second time since Brady left that the program has had such a mark at this point in the campaign..

“It’s always a team thing,” Hart said. “I’ll go as far as my team goes. So it’s all about the team.”

Hart was recruited to Marist by Martin out of Delaware (also the home of fellow MAAC stars A.J. English, Marcus Gilbert, and Deon Jones), but missed what was to be his freshman year in 2012-13 with a knee injury. Martin was let go, but Hart decided to stay under new head man Jeff Bower and was the runaway MAAC Rookie of the Year, averaging 14.7 points per game and recording 43 steals.

But Bower returned to the NBA and Hart was injured again two games into last season. He returned in mid-January, but his shooting numbers dropped to 38.8% overall and 31.2% from three-point range. He had moments, like a 7-7 shooting performance in leading Marist over Quinnipiac in the first round of the MAAC Tournament, but recorded just 17 steals (never more than two in a game).

Still, MAAC coaches knew enough about Hart to put him on the preseason conference second team. Unfortunately, Maker knows, fairly or unfairly, that the plaudits his star will receive will likely have a direct correlation to how many games his team wins this season. Which is another reason why Tuesday’s win might be huge for the Red Foxes. Marist trailed for most of the second half, and was down 62-55 with two minutes left in regulation before Hart scored seven straight points to tie it, the last a contested layup with 11 seconds left. After Kentrall Brooks stole the ball seconds later, it appeared that Hart had won the game with a second left. But after a lengthy conversation, the referees changed their block call to a charge and the bucket was wiped out.

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Marist led by six in the first overtime, but Hart fell hard to the ground on a drive, landing directly on his back, forcing him out of the game. Brown hit back-to-back three-pointers to tie the game and send it to a second extra session. Marist was down 83-79 with 40 seconds left before Hart hit a three-pointer and then – after a stop – got fouled with 11 seconds left. He hit both and Brown never got a shot off at the other end to finally claim the victory. Hart’s five steals in the contest were also a career-high. Hart will face plenty of scrutiny from opponents in the MAAC, but fully healthy (hopefully his back is OK), he is shooting 52.2% from the field and 42.2% from behind the three-point arc this season.

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“I know it’s a little rose-colored glasses, but I think he’s a first-team all-MAAC player,” Maker said. “I’ve coached at the highest levels, in the Big East (West Virginia), I was in the Missouri Valley (Creighton), and he’s as good as any guard I’ve ever coached. He has not had the supporting cast, and neither did Chavaughn Lewis. We’re trying to get more balanced, and we’ve had one recruiting class to try to alleviate some of that pressure. He’s been clearly carrying us, but tonight Kentrall Brooks injected us with some life and made some big plays, and I’m happy for him.”

Brooks was averaging less than 10 minutes per game before coming up with 10 points, three steals, and two blocks Tuesday. Hart’s primary help offensively has come from freshman Brian Parker, a 6’2” slasher averaging 15 points per game. He struggled from the field Tuesday (4-16) and is yet to make a three-pointer this season (0-5), but is second on the team in rebounds and assists. The duo has the potential to create matchup nightmares trying to keep the duo out of the lane.

“Every team is different. We run a hybrid of Coach (John) Beilein’s stuff and some Princeton concepts, which are kind of equal opportunity with the ball,” Maker said. “But it’s not equal opportunity right now, it’s Khallid and Brian most of the time, so I’m trying to make those subtle adjustments to put the players in the best positions to succeed.”

Icelandic freshman Kristinn Palsson can also take pressure off the guards when he’s shooting well. He was at 30% coming into Tuesday (from both inside and outside the arc), but hit a couple of massive threes down the stretch in the Marist comeback. In addition to guys like Brooks and Palsson, veteran post players Eric Truog and Phil Lawrence-Ricks may be the biggest keys to any success the Red Foxes will have in the MAAC. In keeping with the Princeton principles, Troug – at 6’10” – leads Marist in assists, but his presence on the boards will be needed, Marist was just 334th nationally in defensive rebounding rate (64.4%) last season, and are only slightly better this season (66.9%, good for 272nd).

So everyone with Marist will admit there is still plenty of work to be done. But the climb out of a hole that began to be dug seven years ago may have finally begun.

“We showed a lot of resiliency tonight that quite frankly Marist basketball hasn’t shown in quite some time,” Maker said. “Not since I’ve been coaching. This is our best win because it wasn’t pretty, to show that mental toughness when we were fatigued and had things go against us, and yet found a way to win on a neutral court. I’m more proud of our guys today than I ever have because if you can win when you don’t play well where our program is, it’s a major step. We clearly have things we have to get better at, but we have some momentum going forward.”

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