Coming off a special 18-win campaign that ended with a tough overtime loss to St. Thomas Aquinas in the East Coast Conference championship game, Molloy College’s men’s basketball team is faced with the task of replacing three of its top five scorers, including its top two rebounders.
“It’s going to take some time to replace what we lost,” Lions head coach Charles Marquardt said. “A lot of guys are stepping into bigger roles. We’re going to go 10-deep and we’ll need multiple guys to get us 10 or 12 points to pick up the scoring slack.”
Molloy went 13-5 against ECC foes last season, thanks in large part to key departures Charlie Marquardt, the coach’s son who averaged nearly 22 points per game and shot 91.2 percent from the line, Jaylen Morris (19.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg), and Mike Guzzardi (11.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg.) Marquardt scored a program-record 51 points in the finale.
The Lions return a pair of starters and were ranked sixth in the preseason poll in the 10-team ECC. They endured a rugged November schedule that included trips to St. John’s and Hofstra. “The schedule was built to challenge us early,” coach Marquardt said. “You find out what you’re made of and what you need to work on.
“It’ll be interesting to see where we’re at in a month,” he added.
Junior Curtis Jenkins, a product of Farmingdale High School, is Molloy’s top returning scorer and off to a strong start averaging 16.8 points through six games. He poured in 12 per game last season and sees time at both guard spots. “Curtis is a great defender who plays with intensity and has a great work ethic,” Marquardt said. “He can rebound and get out on the break. He has a mid-range shot and likes to attack to rim.”
Sophomore Nick Corbett is Molloy’s other returning starter. He too can run the show from the point or serve as the shooting guard. He earned ECC Rookie of the Year honors last winter and averaged 9.3 points per game. “He’s pretty skilled and can fill it up when he gets going,” Marquardt said of Corbett, who is off to a blazing start with a team-leading 17.4 points per game. “He’s still maturing and getting better every day. He does a nice job protecting the ball and he’s our main perimeter threat.”
Rounding out the starting backcourt thus far has been sophomore Nolan Kelly, whose picked up where he left off last season when he closed with a rush. He’s an accurate shooter contributing around 8 points.
Another sophomore, Valley Stream North grad Josh Dennis, logged important minutes last season and has emerged as a starting forward. He defends well, rebounds and has a lot of spring in his step. “He’s coming into his own,” Marquardt said of Dennis, who chipped in 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds through November.
At center, redshirt freshman Justin Caldwell enjoyed lots of success at Baldwin High School and is making an impact for the Lions after missing last season with a knee injury. He’s 6-foot-7, 230 pounds and brings a tremendous work ethic and ability to rebound and defend, Marquardt noted.
While the starting five has been consistent so far, there’s no telling what December will bring as the Lions have many other contributors pushing for more minutes. Junior Chris O’Reilly appeared in just two of the first six games but hit for 17 points against Assumption. Junior Mike Torre ranks third on the team at 8.3 points per game, and his freshman brother Steven has already made one start. Six-foot-5 junior Derrick Okunpolor and sophomore Keenan Loder are also playing vital roles.
The Lions shot 49 percent from the floor in their lone November victory, a 63-61 decision over Caldwell University. Mike Torre (17), Jenkins (14) and Caldwell (14) all scored in double figures.
“Our defense is ahead of our offense right now,” Marquardt said. “Everything we do is with an eye on the ECC. I think St. Thomas and Bridgeport are the teams to beat, and the race is going to come down to which teams improve the most. We can be in the mix.”