ALBANY — Marvin Prochet couldn’t get through his final words to the media as a member of the Niagara men’s basketball team. Before he could complete a sentence at the podium, following a 76-72 loss to Monmouth on Thursday in the MAAC Tournament, he put his head in his hand and choked back a sob.
This wasn’t how Prochet wanted his senior season to end, watching his potential game-tying 3-point attempt clank in and out of the hoop at the Times Union Center with 3.1 seconds remaining. The rebound dropped into the hands of Monmouth guard Nick Rutherford, who made a free throw to set the final score.
Prochet scored 11 points and had 12 rebounds and three blocks in his final game for Niagara.
Instead of looking forward to another tournament game with the Purple Eagles, Prochet looked back on his four years with the program.
“Niagara University gave me coach (Chris) Casey, and gave me an opportunity to come here, when nobody else wanted me,” Prochet, a forward from Brooklyn, said, holding back tears. “When I was down, Coach Casey was always there behind me, was fighting for me. I played my heart out for Niagara University.”
Prochet, a second-team all-MAAC selection, averaged team highs of 15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in 29 games in 2018-19. He finished his four seasons at Niagara averaging 10.6 points and 6.5 rebounds, had 19 double-doubles and became one of the program’s cornerstones for Niagara coach Casey.
“For Marvin, there’s not enough words to describe what he’s meant to me,” Casey said. “We’re very similar people, in terms of intensity and emotion and work ethic and things like that. There’s a (connection) when there’s similarities. And not having that around me next year is going to be a void. Hopefully, we’ll have some guys who will step into that type of role.”
While Prochet’s senior season at Niagara ended with a sob, Casey’s sixth season at Niagara ended with a thud.
The Purple Eagles finished 13-19 and in a three-way tie for last place in the MAAC at 6-12. Niagara dropped to the lowest seed in the tournament after a loss to Siena to end the regular season, combined with Saint Peter's win against Fairfield. Niagara went 1-3 combined against Saint Peter’s and Fairfield this season.
The Purple Eagles also finished 2-8 in their final 10 games counting Thursday, including a 2-6 record in February.
In November, Casey received a contract extension through the 2021-2022 season, but he is 64-129 at Niagara, and the Purple Eagles have only finished above .500 once in those six years. Niagara was 19-14 in 2017-18, and lost in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament. The Purple Eagles haven’t advanced past the conference quarterfinals in Casey’s six years as head coach.
Niagara graduates four seniors or fifth-year seniors from its roster: forwards Prochet, Dominic Robb (second on the team with 10.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game) and Greg King (4.6 points, 4.3 rebounds), and guard Chris Barton (6.6 points). Robb ends his four years at Niagara as the program’s all-time leader with 225 blocks, including 69 this season.
In particular, Casey hopes the foundation Prochet set for younger players such as Raheem Solomon and Marcus Hammond will continue.
“We talk about, all the time, how a player-coach team is always better than a coach-coach team,” Casey said. “With the meaning there being, the players taking on a responsibility level and helping each other. Marv did a great job with those young guys of being big brother and showing them how things are supposed to be done, whether it’s on the court, practice, off the court, classroom academics, representing yourself in the community. Credit to those young guys, Raheem and Marcus, they saw that as an opportunity to learn.”
Solomon, a freshman guard, scored a game-high 24 points in the loss to Monmouth, and averaged 7.8 points in 32 games.
Even with the loss to Monmouth fresh in his mind, Solomon said he already aims to carry what he did Thursday night and as a freshman into next season.
“I can still do the same thing next year,” Solomon said. “As long as I’m focused, doing what I have to do and helping my team out next year, so we can come back here and, hopefully next year, win the whole thing.”