After Marist lost to Iona in the MAAC Championship game last year, head coach John Dunne left then-freshman Jaden Daughtry with one piece of advice for the offseason.
“[Coach Dunne] told me to slow down,” Daughtry said after today’s game. “I was always going 100 miles per hour.”
And as Daughtry has slowed himself down, the game has opened up for him. He scored a career-high 12 points while swatting three shots in Marist’s 73-49 drubbing of Bucknell at McCann Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The Fresh Meadows, N.Y., native appeared in all 33 of Marist’s games last year but never scored in double figures. He was a gangly, wide-eyed freshman just doing whatever he could to make an impact, but perhaps, doing too much.
“I didn’t get out of my head,” Daughtry said of his freshman season, in which he averaged 3.7 points on 38.3% from the field and 3.4 rebounds. While his numbers this season still don’t jump out, averaging under eight points per game, it’s clear how much of a step he has taken. He does all of the little things at a high level on both ends of the floor.
To open up the game, Marist went to their four-around-one offensive set. The Foxes love feeding San Jose State transfer Max Allen in the low post, and he received the ball on the left block on this possession as well. However, instead of going to the basket, he passed the ball back to Isaiah Brickner on the left wing. A few ball reversals later, Daughtry found himself alone in the right corner. He set his feet and drained the triple to start the scoring.
Daughtry shot just 28.3% from deep last year. He’s now up to 4-for-10 (40%) in 2023-24.
“I worked on staying close to the corner and shooting corner shots all day every day,” Daughtry said. “And that’s how I’m draining them in games, confidence comes into play.”
For his next trick, he flexed his muscles on both ends. Halfway through the first half, Daughtry, acting as the help-side post defender, swatted 7-footer Noah Williamson’s layup attempt. It was his third block of the contest, a new career-high.
On the other end of the floor, he received the ball in transition above the left wing, took one left-hand dribble, and then hesitated. As he paused, a driving lane opened up. He went directly to the basket with one dribble and put a floater in off the glass to extend Marist’s lead to 12.
“He’s playing a little bit more under control,” Dunne said, “Performing as a freshman is not easy because you have to learn how to play with the appropriate intensity, and then the appropriate toughness, all while not going out there and making a ton of mistakes, but we knew we were going to have to count on him this year.”
While Marist didn’t lose a ton of production on the wing, it didn’t have a ton of wing production in the first place. Javon Cooley is the closest player on the roster to a true wing, aside from Daughtry, and he’s more of a two-guard at times. The evolution of Daughtry adds another level to this team.
With under four minutes to play in the first half, Noah Harris ripped the ball out of the hands of a driving Bison guard, and immediately, Daughtry was off to the races. One dribble later, Harris sent a pass over the defense into the path of the sophomore, who finished the play with an emphatic slam dunk.
“He’s doing a lot more this year,” Harris said of Daughtry, “He’s high energy, and when he brings that, it’s hard to bring him back down to earth. So he needs to keep that level of intensity every game.”
Harris himself had an excellent day, scoring 15 points on five first-half 3-pointers. When Marist is hitting shots like it was this, shooting 52% from beyond the arc, it’s going to be a hard team to beat.
Daughtry hit another three and had another emphatic slam dunk in the second half, bringing up his total to a career-best 12 on just six field goal attempts. He set his previous career-high with 11 in the road win against UMBC just two weeks ago.
“When he’s got time and space, when he’s taking the right shots, he can be really efficient,” Dunne said.
While the development of his offense is noteworthy, he will always make his money on the defensive end.
“He’s really athletic,” Dunne said, “He’s got long arms. He’s got pretty good timing, and he’s going to get better and better for us.”
Daughtry has all of the physical makings of an all-league caliber defender, and he’s also begun to show the mentality.
“It’s just playing defense to me,” Daughtry said, “If I’m not getting it done on offense, I’m going to get it done on that end, and it’s not different from anything else.”
Daughtry’s mental shift hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coach either, who is really excited about the growth that he’s shown.
“I thought he had great intensity and focus in the first couple games of the year, and I know he wanted to make up for the New Hampshire performance [in which he scored just six point].” Dunne said. “That’s what good players do. If they don’t play up to their potential, they come back really ready to play in the next one.”