The Marist Women’s Basketball team defeated the third-seeded Siena Saints on Sunday in the semi-final round of the MAAC tournament by a score of 67-51. The Red Foxes move on to the MAAC finals in Albany where they will take on the number-one seeded Quinnipiac.
“For a young team, I’m just very proud of them,” Coach Brian Giorgis said after the game. “To get 20 wins for the season, which has been our benchmark for about a decade… to get back to finals for the first time in three years is a real feather in their cap.” This is Giorgis’ 13th appearance in the MAAC championship, and his career record in this game is 10-2.
Going into the game, Marist and Siena split the regular season series, where both teams won on their home court. On Sunday, Marist was able to shut down Siena’s offense at their home venue, the Times Union Center in Albany.
Siena’s leading scorers Kollyns Scarbrough, who was third in the MAAC in scoring this season, and Aaliyah Jones, were held to 16 and 8 points, respectively.
“I think today as a whole we played pretty good defense, especially down the line when we needed stops,” junior guard Maura Fitzpatrick said. For the game, Siena shot 26 percent from the field and 3 for 16 from 3-point territory.
Coach Giorgis believes the team prevailed Sunday because of the team’s defensive effort. “We don’t get many steals, but we contested shots and made it tough for them,” he said. “Once we stopped putting them on the line, we did a much better job on that end of the floor.”
On the offensive side, Alana Gilmer led the Red Foxes with 22 points, and she is averaging 22 points per game in her last four games. Additionally, Rebekah Hand scored 15 points and had 6 assists, and Fitzpatrick added 13 points off 6 of 8 shooting.
During post game interviews after Friday’s win against Manhattan, the team expressed concern about their struggle with breaking the press. The Saints did not get much of an opportunity to press early on, and the Red Foxes took advantage. Marist came out of the gates quickly, building a 16-4 lead near the 4-minute mark in the first. The run was highlighted by Gilmer’s offense, as she went 3 for 3 from the field. The majority of first quarter scoring for the Saints came from the foul line, going 9-12. The Saints were unable to capitalize off any of their four forced turnovers from the full court press in the quarter. When the first came to a close, the Red Foxes lead 25-14.
In the middle of the second quarter, the Saints scored six straight points, bringing the lead down to seven. Marist then responded with an 8-2 run of their own to increase the lead to 40-24 with 1:21 left in the second. Scarborough led the Saints in first half scoring with 10 points. Jones, who scored 21 points in their quarterfinal victory against Niagara, was held to two points on 1 for 9 shooting in the half. The Saints saw some success pressing Marist, causing 11 turnovers. Six of the turnovers were forced in the Red Foxes’ backcourt, but the Saints only scored 6 points in response.
Marist had trouble scoring to start the second half. The Saints were able to make it a 3-point game with 4 minutes left in the third. With Siena within striking distance, Hand stepped up, hitting a three and an outside jumper on consecutive drives to bring the score back up to 49-41 in favor of Marist. When Hand was asked if she was worried when the lead was cut to three, she responded, “Not really… I knew that we were going to pull it out because we have been working so hard to this point.” Hand continued saying, “I’m so proud of our team… we stuck together and didn’t let that scare us.”
The Saints only put up 8 points in the final quarter and were unable to make a late comeback. Marist was able to slow down their turnover rate in the second half, committing only seven in total. “We slowed it down and [didn’t] let them speed us up… We adjusted well to it,” Fitzpatrick said about the team’s performance against the press. A Fitzpatrick full court pass to Grace Vander Weide for a lay-up essentially put the game out of reach for the Saints, with the score becoming 65-51 with 2:35 left.
With this victory, the team advances to the MAAC finals for the first time since the 2014-15 season. Only lone-senior Kendall Baab was on that team. This guarantees the team a trip to the postseason, either getting a WNIT bid if they lose or an NCAA-tournament bid if they win on Monday.
Coach Giorgis knows that the team has their work cut out for them if the team wants to beat Quinnipiac, who went 18-0 in conference play and won their games by an average of 14.2 points. “Not only do they have a lot of great scorers, but they are a very experienced team. They play very good defense. We are going to have to execute the little things,” Giorgis said about their upcoming opponent.
The players are ready for the challenge of giving Quinnipiac their first loss against a MAAC team this season. Maura Fitzpatrick said confidently, “We know them, we have played them twice already, [and] last game we played them really tough. We just need to go in there motivated and play our basketball.”
Marist has been the only team in the MAAC to give the Bobcats a competitive game, losing to them by seven on the road and then again in a double-overtime thriller at home two weeks ago. “Both times we beat ourselves we didn’t focus on the little things like we should have,” said Hand. “We just need clean it up a little.”
“This is what we have been looking forward to since day one,” Giorgis said about the championship. “[It’s] even more emphasized now that we lost a double-overtime game to them that we should have won.”