The Marist Red Foxes finished the 2016-17 season with a 5-15 record, their third consecutive year with five or fewer victories, but enter the conference tournament winners of two of their last three games.
Despite tying Manhattan for the bottom spot in the league, Marist will play as the #10 seed in the MAAC tournament by virtue of winning a coin flip tiebreaker on the final day of the season. They will take on #7 Canisius in the opening round of the tournament Thursday night at 7:00 p.m.
Player to watch: #5 Khallid Hart, R-Sr. G
Khallid Hart leads the Red Foxes and ranks third in the league with a scoring average of 18.0 ppg. The fifth-year senior and 2014 MAAC Rookie of the Year was named to the all-MAAC Second Team for the second consecutive year earlier this week.
“He’s meant the world to our program,” head coach Mike Maker said of Hart during a league conference call this Monday. “We feel fortunate to have Khallid in our program. He’s had three different coaches, I’m his third. That’s difficult for any player to handle, and he’s handled that with great integrity. It says a lot about his substance. I think he’s as good as any guard in our league.”
Beyond Hart, the Red Foxes are powered by a deep sophomore class just beginning to come into its own. Brian Parker, a unanimous selection to last year’s all-Rookie team, checks in at 12.6 ppg and leads the team in both rebounds (5.8) and assists (3.2) per game. Ryan Funk sits just behind Parker with 12.5 ppg and is the team’s leading 3-point shooter at 41%.
“I think he’s one of the more improved players in our conference,” Maker said of Funk. “I think Ryan has really developed. He’s certainly a sharpshooter from deep. I think people know him as a shooter, but I think he’s much more than that. He’s a very good vertical athlete and he continues to work on his game, but he’s surfaced as clearly an impact player playing the wing forward, combo forward for us.”
Marist stood at 3-5 in league play midway through January after a win at Niagara (which earned them a season sweep of the Purple Eagles), but then fell into a nine-game slide over the following month with an average margin of defeat of 12.9 points in those contests. However, the Red Foxes were able to rebound with back to back wins over Canisius and Quinnipiac before falling to Siena in their season finale.
“I think we were playing pretty well even before we beat Canisius and Quinnipiac at home,” Maker said. “It’s just who we were playing well against — you’re talking Iona at home, Monmouth at home, Siena at home, we played very well in those games and well enough to win, but we didn’t. We have a young roster and we didn’t make enough winning plays down the stretch against really good teams that have a surplus of veteran players.”
Maker’s young squad struggled on both sides of the ball this season. According to KenPom.com, the Red Foxes rank last in the league in defensive efficiency during conference play, and tenth of eleven in offensive efficiency.
However, one area in which the squad excels is getting to the charity stripe. Marist leads the MAAC with a 41.4% free throw rate, but is middle of the pack in taking advantage of those opportunities. The Red Foxes rank sixth in the league with a 72.5% team free throw percentage.
As mentioned, Marist earned a season split with Canisius after eking out a 76-74 win in Poughkeepsie February 19, but were blown out 91-58 in Buffalo on January 14. Hart led Marist in both contests, with 15 in the first meeting and 22 in the second.
A key to Marist’s success on Thursday will be the team’s ability to limit the Golden Griffins’ Kassius Robertson. The all-MAAC Second Team member posted a career-high 30 points in the team’s first meeting, but was held to just nine in the Red Foxes’ February victory.
“I think certainly winning the games against Canisius and Quinnipiac, for our own players, maybe their psyche helps,” Maker added. “Just winning in its own right doesn’t give you the confidence. It’s playing well, and we played well down the stretch minus a couple of games. I’ve been really proud of how our guys have responded to where we sit in the league. Right now it doesn’t matter. Everyone is 0-0, and hopefully we put ourselves in position to get a W.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.