Marist head coach Mike Maker was at a loss of words at the post game press conference. He took a deep breath and struggled through his opening statement as tears came down and he stopped to dry his eyes.
“They were dealt a tough hand,” Maker said. “To be this competitive with what we are going through, we have made major strides with this basketball program.”
No one could have predicted the hand that Maker was ultimately dealt as they dropped their opener to conference play 57-50 to Monmouth at McCann Arena. With senior point guard T.J. Curry sidelined with a broken hand and reigning MAAC Rookie of the Year Khallid Hart out with a broken foot, the first-year head coach was already short two key pieces.
The seventh game of the season saw the third key injury for the Red Foxes. Two minutes into the game, senior Chavaughn Lewis injured his left ankle on a drive to the basket. He stayed down and eventually was helped off the court by two coaches. Initial reports indicate a sprained ankle for Lewis, who was seen getting treatment on the injury during the first half and walking on crutches during the second half.
With the early injury to Lewis, Marist had to get a variety of players scoring the ball to keep the game in reach. Junior forward Phillip Lawrence hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the first half to lead Marist. He finished the game leading the Red Foxes in scoring with 14 points, going 6 for 10 from the field, including two 3-pointers.
Here are three thoughts from the third MAAC game of the season, all of which have gone to the visitors thus far.
Marist Is Extremely 3-Point Dependent – Before the season, Maker indicated that they would be playing a brand of offense that includes shooting plenty of 3-pointers. The game plan did not disappoint. Marist put up 27 three’s during the game. Senior Manny Thomas and Lawrence led the team in 3-point attempts with six and five, respectively.
The Red Foxes shot 28.6% from behind the arc in the first half and 30.8% in the second half. For the Marist offense to click, they need to be knocking down their three’s. Redshirt freshman Nick Colletta got off to a slow start, missing his first three shot attempts, two of which came from behind the arc.
It seems that Marist struggles getting open three’s because on many possessions, their ball movement is limited to the outside and do not weave many passes into the paint. Marist’s paint presence has left a lot to be desired all year. Monmouth crushed the Red Foxes in the pain, winning that battle by a 40-16 margin.
Monmouth Plays a Team Brand of Basketball That Starts With Justin Robinson – “At halftime, my coaches said I need to be more aggressive,” the sophomore Robinson said. “I did not have my ideal first half.” The 5’8” point guard did not take a shot in the first half and tallied only one assist and one steal. However, he really turned it on in the second half. His quickness at the guard position and his court vision helped Monmouth move the ball in-and-out of the paint.
Robinson exploded for 12 second-half points to go along with two assists. He played all but 13 minutes in the game and gave the offense an electric feel. He made up for his less than ideal height on defense with quick feet and great instincts on the court.
“Justin is our heart and soul,” head coach King Rice said. “Justin is one of the most dynamic basketball players in our league.”
Marist Freshmen Putting Up Big Minutes – With an onslaught of injuries, Maker has had to reassign around 110 minutes a game to his other players. K.J. Lee is the primary beneficiary of the Curry’s minutes. The 6’4” freshman, who did not play at all during the Red Foxes’ opener against Bucknell, has started the last five games. “College basketball is played very fast,” Lee said on what he has learned as a starting guard. The man-of-few-words continued saying that, “staying poised and keeping calm,” were other takeaways from his first few weeks.
The other freshmen that played significant were guard James Griffin and center Connor McClenaghan. Griffin played 20 minutes, tallying three points and an assist. McClenaghan had a tough assignment, faced with covering Monmouth’s Zac Tillman as well as Chris Brady. Tilman (6-10, 280 lbs) and Brady (6-10, 240 lbs) had the height and weight advantage on McClenaghan (6-9, 215 lbs); however, he and junior center Eric Truog limited the duo’s production. Tilman had four points to go along with one rebound, while Brady was a bit more successful, scoring eight points with four rebounds.
The early minutes these true freshman are getting will bode well for when they return to being reserves, which will only come once Marist gets their key pieces back in Hart, Curry and now waiting on Lewis’ future.