GOSHEN – It was only fitting on Valentine’s Day that Spring Arbor men’s basketball coach Ryan Cottingham had no trouble expressing his affection for Paul Marandet Tuesday night.
“We love him,” said Cottingham following his team’s 88-81 win over host Goshen College in a Crossroads League matchup.
Suffice to say that the Spring Arbor program is enamored with the do-it-all freshman point guard from Warsaw.
“What is there not to like about him?,” remarked Cottingham, now in his 18th season at Spring Arbor. “He’s a winner. He’s a big time player. He plays both ends of the floor and his basketball IQ is off the charts.”
Marandet is surely making his mark for the Cougars. Spring Arbor improved to 17-12 overall and 9-8 in the tough Crossroads League with its win over the Maple Leafs. The Cougars were 8-22 overall and 2-16 in conference play just a year ago.
“We knew a year ago that Paul was good, but he has come in and even exceeded our expecatations for him,” Cottingham said. “We knew that we had to have him. He was the piece that we were missing. He makes other players better and that’s what great point guards do.”
“He’s a fiery competitor. I think that he’s one of the best freshmen in our league.”
Marandet turned in his usual solid all-around performance Tuesday night in one of his “Homecoming” games. Several fans from Warsaw made the trip North to see the former Tiger star perform, including Warsaw head coach Doug Ogle and assistant coach David Wayne.
Marandet finished his night with 11 points as he hit 4-8 shots from the field, including 2-3 from 3-point range. The 6-0 guard also had three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“It means a lot to me,” said Marandet of seeing familiar faces in the crowd, including Ogle and Wayne, who visited the Spring Arbor locker room following the win. “It shows how much they care about me. I love bragging to the team about them.”
The Cougars were coming off a tough 65-64 loss at Grace College on Saturday.
Marandet, who was the 2015 Ink Free News Player of the Year, helped the Tigers to a 25-2 mark his senior season. He averaged 13 points, four rebounds and four assists as Warsaw won conference, sectional and regional championship during the 2015-16 season.
Marandet entered play Tuesday night as the third-leading scorer for the Cougars at 12.4 points-per-game. He was leading his team in assists at 4.5 per game. Marandet was also averaging 3.1 rebounds per contest, while shooting 46 percent on 3-pointers and 83 percent from the free throw line.
“I feel like I’ve made a pretty good contribution this year and helped make a difference in the team,” said Marandet confidently. “I had to find my role early with the seniors we have on the team, but I feel pretty good with how I’m playing. I’m most happy with the progress of our team this season.”
Spring Arbor, which beat Goshen 80-59 at home earlier in the season, led just 47-43 at halftime Tuesday night. The Cougars built a big second-half lead, which reached 83-64 on a trey by Marandet late in the game, before the Leafs rallied to make the final score much more respectable. Goshen, which has lost its last eight games, drops to 10-19 overall and 3-14 in league play.
Junior Zach Medendorp led Spring Arbor with 19 points in the win. Junior guard Drew Zuidema finished with 17, Marandet 11 and senior forward Thomas Starks 10 for the Cougars.
Devin Heath-Granger, a junior guard from Indianapolis, scored 16 points to pace the Maple Leafs. Senior Kevin Phillips had 14 points and senior Xavier Newsom 11 for the hosts.
“I love playing in this league,” noted Marandet. “You go up against great players every game and I love that type of competition.”
Marandet, who was a two-time All-NLC selection at WCHS, knows there is still plenty of work to do.
“I need to work on my mid-range shooting and always on my ball handling skills,” noted Marandet. “I’m definitely still not satisfied with my game. There’s plenty to work on for sure.”
Cottingham concurs with his talented freshman.
“We think that Paul could still add some muscle,” said Cottingham. “We think that then his offense would become more explosive.”
Spring Arbor, which entered the week tied for fifth place in the Crossroads League standings, will finish conference play on Saturday with a game at Indiana Wesleyan.
The top eight teams in the 10-team Crossroads League qualify for the League Tournament, which is scheduled to open with first-round games on Feb. 22. The tourney semifinals are slated for Feb. 25 with the title game on Feb. 28.