POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – It looked like a MAAC Championship preview right from the tip.
On McCann Arena’s annual “Pack the House” game at Marist, the crowd erupted after redshirt sophomore forward Alana Gilmer scored the team’s first basket, and fans did not have a reason to settle down until the final buzzer. Unfortunately, Quinnipiac thrives in situations like these.
The Marist women hoped to end Quinnipiac’s flawless record in conference play heading into Sunday afternoons matchup of the top teams in the MAAC. The Bobcats extended their winning streak to 17 and maintained a perfect conference record in a double overtime thriller, 80-74.
“This was probably the best game in the MAAC in a long, long time,” Marist head coach Brian Giorgis said. “A tremendous game. Unfortunately, we came up on the short end.”
Marist entered the contest with nine straight wins in the conference, second in the standings behind Quinnipiac.
In a game with 18 lead changes and nine in the second quarter alone, neither team could seem to carry momentum. Seven straight baskets were scored at opposite ends in the second quarter, making for a 29-28 score at the half in favor of Marist.
Sophomore guard Rebekah Hand was not at practice for four days with the flu and returned to play “one of the most remarkable games” Giorgis has ever seen, as he described it. She entered the game averaging 16.3 points per game, good for second in the conference, and finished with a team-high 20 points.
In a fast-paced third quarter, Quinnipiac took another small lead until redshirt sophomore guard Grace Vander Weide went coast-to-coast and finished a layup, putting Marist back on top, 36-34. Back-to-back threes in the third put the Bobcats ahead by what seemed like a large margin in this nail-biter, 47-43.
Marist could not slow down MAAC Preseason Player of the Year Aryn McClure all night. She battled junior guard Maura Fitzpatrick, who played all 50 minutes, for the entire game. At the end of regulation, the Bobcats looked to hold for the last shot down by three. Bobcat junior forward Paula Strautmane was fouled with 12 seconds and headed to the free-throw line. A miss on the second attempt was grabbed by McClure for one of Quinnipiac’s 26 offensive rebounds.
Still trailing by two, redshirt junior forward Jen Fay was fouled and calmly sank both free throws with chants and boos by Red Fox fans filling the arena. Extra basketball was on tap for this matinee.
With Quinnipiac up three with 21 seconds left in overtime, Hand did what she does best and buried a transition three to tie it again. The clock ran out on the Bobcats, and the battle of the best would play on, even at 67.
“We drew the play up to hit a three, so after I hit it I was so excited,” Hand said. “But I knew we just had to stop them on D.”
Marist hung around for 45 minutes, but Quinnipiac used a 7-0 run in double overtime to take a 74-69 lead that Marist could not claw back into. McClure would foul out with just over two minutes left, but the junior finished perfect from the free throw line and scored 10 of her game-high 25 points beyond regulation. The Bobcats clinched their fourth-consecutive MAAC regular season title with the victory.
Fitzpatrick added 15 points for Marist, while Vander Weide and Gilmer netted 13 apiece. Jen Fay added 21 for Quinnipiac.
Marist moves to 13-3 in the MAAC and 17-11 overall, while Quinnipiac improved to 22-5 overall. Both will head into the final week of MAAC play with their seeds locked into place for the conference tournament. Barring upsets, which are not uncommon, they may see each other again at the Times Union Center in Albany.
“Our kids played their hearts out,” Giorgis said. “We can beat these guys. It’s just a matter of their experience versus our lack of it in big games.”