Considering today’s date – rub your eyes all you want; it is most certainly January – 62 degrees is unseasonably warm for Upstate New York. So it only made sense that Marist’s offense would keep up with the “heat” outdoors, as their opening 24-0 run would propel them toward a 94-67 romp of Niagara. Again, don’t rub your eyes, as yes, that’s three straight games over 90 points, and six straight wins.
Alana Gilmer was the definition of efficient, setting a single-game personal record for field goal percentage in a nine-for-nine performance and scoring 18 in just 15 minutes. Rebekah Hand almost had a piece of the field goal percentage record herself, going eight-of-nine and equaling Gilmer with 18 points. Grace Vander Weide and Willow Duffell got in on the action, too, finishing in double-figures.
An inside-out focus was evident from the tip, accompanied by Marist’s now-trademarked unselfishness. The ball moved from the paint to the perimeter, setting up wide-open looks for Vander Weide and Hand early. It was 14-0 before Niagara used their second timeout just three minutes into the game.
“It just speaks to how hard our team works,” said Gilmer. “Coach Giorgis pointed out some things we needed to improve on, and we came out trying to do them and we played some great defense.”
The Red Foxes played stifling defense in the early going. Niagara’s possessions either ended in a turnover or a well-contested shot. The Purple Eagles tried their version of the “Red Raider” group, bringing in five new players to play pressure defense. Marist was unphased, executing multiple full-court passes that resulted in easy layups. More scoring from the big three had the Red Foxes up by an incredible 24-0 margin.
“We handled their pressure very well,” said head coach Brian Giorgis. “This team does a great job of finding the open man and everything was clicking for us early.”
The Niagara commentators were at a loss for words. The uncomfortable silence was finally broken by a three-pointer by Niagara’s Ally Haar. The Purple Eagles had gone the first six minutes without a field goal. It’s difficult to decide which feat was more impressive for Marist; scoring 24 points in just over six minutes or holding a conference foe scoreless over that span.
Or maybe it’s leading 32-7 after ten minutes. Perhaps a poll with all those options would end up more competitive.
“It’s an awesome feeling when everything is going in like that,” Gilmer said of her team’s scintillating start. “We’ve been working really hard in the gym and it showed today.”
Marist continued their inside attack in the second quarter. Gilmer, Hand, and Duffell were the catalysts, combining to score the first 15 points of the quarter. Duffell, an underrated passer, continued to dish and score. At one point the Red Foxes had a 51-15 advantage. Niagara’s Jai Moore carried her team to break, scoring 17 by halftime. Marist led 56-22 at the intermission, tying a record for points scored in a half under Brian Giorgis, and a cushion that would allow him to dip into the reserve pool a bit earlier than usual.
“We got a lot of quality minutes from our bench,” he said. “It’s important to get them in because we may need them in key moments later in the season.”
Though Marist could not keep the incredible pace they had set in the first half — Niagara slowly whittled the lead down to 76-53 by the end of the third quarter — The Red Fox reserves would redeem themselves in the fourth. The only question was if the 90-point streak would continue. As if. Hannah Hand answered with a resounding yes, laying it in to give Marist a 90-57 lead at the time.
The Red Foxes shot a ridiculous 40-of-64 (63%) from the field. The focus on getting the ball inside boosted their field goal percentage, as the team only attempted 16 three-pointers, making six of them. The team equaled the previous game’s mark of 28 assists compared to just 10 turnovers.
Jai Moore had 23 points for Niagara in the losing effort. She was the only Purple Eagle in double-figures
Niagara shot a respectable 25-of-57 (43%) from the field, going nine-of-21 from long range. They struggled mightily from the foul line, going just eight-of-19 (42%). They committed 18 turnovers compared to only 14 assists.
Marist (11-2,4-0) returns to the McCann Center on Thursday night when they will face Rider, who is currently 3-0 in MAAC play. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Edited by Will Bjarnar