Thursday, March 1, 2018

Marist hopes for upset in MAAC tourney opener against Fairfield

Brian Parker leads Marist into MAAC Tournament opener against Fairfield looking for second win in Albany in last four years. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

Three years ago, Mike Maker was the head coach of a No. 11 seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, and won his first postseason game before bowing out to eventual champion Manhattan in the quarterfinals.

The embattled Marist head coach is in a similar spot tonight, as the Red Foxes open the second season against Fairfield in the nightcap of three opening-round games in Albany, in search of an opportunity to flip the script on a disappointing regular season.

"Obviously, we've had our struggles this year," Maker assessed as Marist (6-24) prepares for a rubber match with the Stags, with each team having split the regular season series with victories on their respective home floors. "Having said that, I think we've been awfully close to having a much better record, so we're looking at the opportunity for the conference tournament as a new season, a new opportunity."

"We'll have our hands full, obviously with Tyler Nelson," he conceded. "But our biggest agenda will be to make sure our guys have the proper mindset for the tournament and to make sure that we're as healthy as possible."

In that regard, junior guard Brian Parker; the Red Foxes' leading scorer and one of the top five scorers in the MAAC, was injured early in Marist's overtime win over Fairfield at McCann Arena before making a full recovery. Forward Tobias Sjoberg has battled an ankle injury of his own in recent days, and it is Maker's hope that his big man will be ready to go to compete with Jonathan Kasibabu down low.

"He's our anchor defensively and has been scoring a little more," said Maker of Sjoberg. "He has more of an assertive approach mentally, but our guys have confidence in him as well. He's a key component to us, and we need him as an anchor for us, both offensively and defensively around the rim."

The key to victory begins with limiting Nelson, but on the offensive end, finding ancillary options to supplement Parker and Ryan Funk as well.

"Alex Dozic had a really good weekend in Buffalo," Maker said of his 6-foot-9 forward and his conclusion to the regular season against Niagara and Canisius. "He's skilled, and at 6-foot-9, can dribble, pass, and shoot. Lasse Gummerus can stretch the defense as a forward, and I think David Knudsen gets lost in the conversation quite a bit. We need to make sure that we get David some clear looks at the basket so we can get some scoring from him as well. We're going to have a healthy balance about us, but we're only going as far as our big horses bring us."

"Sydney does a wonderful job and they have one of the elite players in the league in Tyler Nelson," Maker said of Fairfield. "So I think, like everybody else, you're trying to find different ways to guard him to keep him off balance. They give you a lot of different looks defensively, so we're going to have to be; certainly, I think, at our best to put ourselves in the best possible positions to win."

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