Last year during the MAAC Tournament, Alana Gilmer took charge, spiking her offensive production to 21.3 points per game shooting 56.3 percent from the field, leading the Red Foxes to being nine-points shy from topping powerhouse, Quinnipiac University, in the finals.
In Marist’s 65-51 victory over Manhattan in the MAAC quarterfinals on Saturday, Gilmer continued her dominance in the tournament play, ripping off the team’s first 14 points in a marathon mid-range jumper. Her first miss came after her seventh shot attempt. The First Team All-MAAC recipient finished the night with 25 points off of 10-of-15 from the field.
“I wanted to come out and be aggressive and give the team a little spark,” Gilmer said.
“Everybody loves March, everybody loves the tournament. It is a really exciting time, so I’m just really excited to get out and play.”
During the regular season, Marist and Manhattan split the series, each winning on the other team’s home court. Marist was able to convincingly win in the rubber match to advance to the semifinals. This is the fifteenth time Head Coach Brian Giorgis has led Marist to the semifinals in 17 years.
Outside of Gilmer’s performance, Grace Vander Weide and Sarah Barcello finished the game with double-digit scoring performances, with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Barcello hit an important 3-pointer during the second half. She later completed a behind the basket layup after driving in from the baseline to help extend the lead to eight points in the second quarter, taking some offensive pressure off Gilmer.
“I can’t say enough about the supporting cast for Alana.” Giorgis said. “I thought that Sarah Barcello had a tremendous game today, she’s kind of an unsung hero because she’s a little freshman.”
The Jaspers were not able to hit their jumpers, like they did in the their prior victory over Marist, shooting 32 percent from the field and going 0-for-7 with 3-point attempts.
In the second half, Manhattan, who ranked second in the conference this season in points per game allowed, tried to put some pressure on Marist by pressing. Marist, a team that in past years has struggled with a press break, did not have trouble keeping up the scoring production, scoring 33 points in the second half.
Noticeably, Marist’s leading-scorer Rebekah Hand, who averaged 16.4 points per game this season, finished the game with two points. In the first half she missed her two 3-point attempts and could not convert on a fastbreak lay up. Once Gilmer got momentum, the offense catered to her. Hand scored her lone basket off a fastbreak layup midday through the third quarter.
“We had a nice balance today, and when our leading scorer, not a bad shooting day, but just didn’t get that many shots.” Giorgis said. “Other people stepped up and performed. Rebekah ended up being our leading rebounder and leader in assist.”
During Gilmer’s first-quarter scoring rampage, she became the 27th Marist player to score 1,000 career points. Gilmer transferred out of Virginia Tech, where she got minimal playing time, after her freshman year. For Gilmer, what makes her thousand-point milestone at Marist extra meaningful is that she was able to do it with a team with such a strong camaraderie.
“It means a great deal, I loved every second here.” Gilmer said. “I am playing with such a great group of girls, everybody is so close-knit. [That has] kind of made things here for me easier.”
Marist has less than 24 hours to rest up for their next match up against second-seeded Rider. Rider swept Marist during the regular season. MAAC Player of the Year Stella Johnson will be a major focus for the Red Foxes.
“Our number one key is always defense,” Vander Weide said. “We have to stop Stella Johnson. Then we have to rebound, once [we’ve] stopped them. If we do that I think we will be successful.”
“It’s a tough matchup. The first time we lost in our place, we didn’t have Grace Vander Weide.” Giorgis said. “At their place it was tied with 44 seconds to go… We look forward to the challenge.”
To reach the goal of winning the program’s 11th MAAC championship, Marist is likely going to face two tough opponents. However, the team feels that they are playing some of their best basketball this season right now.
“We have talked about all season how we want to be peaking right now.” Vander Weide said. “I think today we did that, especially on defense.”
Edited by Lily Caffrey-Levine
Header photo by Jake Mack