On Sunday morning, just a few hours before Marist’s MAAC semifinals matchup against Rider, Head Coach Brian Giorgis received a text saying that Alana Gilmer, who scored 25 points in Saturday’s quarterfinals round, was feeling sick all night and couldn’t fall asleep. When the First Team All-MAAC player was officially ruled out for the day, Giorgis knew it would have to be a team effort if they wanted to beat Rider — a team that had swept them in the regular season.
“I told the kids in the locker room,” Giorgis said, “that it is not about Rebekah [Hand] stepping up, or Grace [Vander Weide] stepping up. It was about everybody stepping up.”
Giorgis was correct, as Marist was able to top Rider 62-52 Sunday to advance to the MAAC Championship game with the help of four players scoring in the double-digits.
“Probably one of the top five wins that I have had in my 17 years,” said Giorgis, who has led his team to 10 MAAC titles and five NCAA Tournament victories.
In the first few minutes of the game, it looked like Gilmer’s offensive prowess was going to be greatly missed, as Grace Vander Weide badly airballed a 3-point attempt and Hand could not connect on a pair of layups she typically makes.
However, as the half progressed, Hand and Vander Weide picked up their production and were helped by usual rotation players stepped up with scoring and defending MAAC Player of the Year Stella Johnson of Rider, allowing Marist to ultimately dominate the rebound battle.
Marist was able to run their motion offense effectively by setting up open 3-point looks for Sarah Barcello and Lovisa Henningsdottir to connect on. The team’s first half play was best shown midway in the second quarter, when Willow Duffell, who finished by tying her career high with 11 rebounds, collected an offensive board off a 3-point miss by Barcello, and passed it back out to Vander Weide. The point guard drove to the lane and dished it out to Barcello again in the corner and she connected on her second-three point attempt to make the Marist lead 27-12.
On the defensive end of the court, Marist — according to Vander Weide — was able to achieve their two main focuses: halting Stella Johnson and rebound to limit second-chance opportunities for Rider. Johnson, who was pressured by guards Vander Weide and Barcello throughout the half, was limited to five points (2-for-7). Marist also out-rebounded Rider 25-to-12 in the first half.
“They have some great shooters,” Henningsdottir said. “We knew in order to stop them, we had to stop their second-chance opportunities. We knew they couldn’t get second or third shots so all the rebounds, steals, and little hustle plays were important today.”
Early on in the second half, Johnson made it clear that things were not going to come as easy for the Red Foxes, as she rattled off five points in the first minute of play. During the third quarter, Rider hit five 3-pointers and Marist was unable to continue their shooting success. The score narrowed to 39-36 at the end of the third quarter. Johnson scored 19 in the second half.
As it appeared that it was shaping up to be a close finish, Marist was able to find their shooting again in the fourth quarter, going on a 11-0 run. The run was highlighted by Molly Smith, who averaged seven minutes a game this season, completing an old-fashion three point play with a layup and a free-throw.
“Molly Smith, couldn’t happen to a nicer person,” an emotional Giorgis said. “Two back surgeries, she had been out for about a year and a half. She is definitely not the most athletic big on the floor but she is smart. She just did a tremendous job.”
Marist’s scoring production this season have been consistently led by Hand and Gilmer, however it was Vander Weide, Henningsdottir and Barcello that made key baskets to help return Marist to the MAAC Championship
“On a day where Rebekah didn’t have her shot, other people stepped up. That is why this team is a really special team,” Giorgis said.
“We all know, and everybody in the conference knows, that Alana and Rebekah may be our best players,” Henningsdottir said. “But what is so special about our team is that everybody can come off the bench and play just as good as the next person. It just showed today that we can get contributions from anybody.”
Marist is now set for a rematch of last season’s MAAC Championship with Quinnipiac also advancing earlier in the day. Quinnipiac swept them in the regular season, beating them by seven and 12.
“Knock on wood, the two games during the year we scored well on them,” Giorgis said. “They are just such a hard team to stop offensively.”
Even though Quinnipiac finished 18-0 in conference play this season with a scoring differential of plus 16, Giorgis is optimistic that the team can clinch an NCAA Tournament bid, their first since 2014, with a win Monday afternoon.
“I wouldn’t bet against us. I just think these kids really believe in ourselves.”
Edited by Meaghan Roche
Header image courtesy of Marist Athletics