Marist overcame a lackluster first half to complete the season sweep over Niagara tonight, winning 82-57 inside the McCann Center.
The final margin resembled that of the first meeting between the teams in Buffalo three weeks ago. The Red Foxes, however, had to fight much harder after falling behind in the first quarter. Marist could not replicate their scorching 23-0 start from 21 days ago, but a dominant third quarter allowed them to cruise to victory without much stress.
“I thought it was a nice rebound game after Thursday’s loss,” said Marist head coach Brian Giorgis. “We started slow on defense but we persevered, made some adjustments and had a great third quarter.”
Marist (15-4, 8-2 in the MAAC) got the bad taste from the Fairfield game out of their system, getting most of their scoring from inside. Alana Gilmer was back to her old ways, tying the game-high with 23 points after a rather abysmal performance on Thursday night.
“I just tried to come back today and do the same thing I’ve been doing,” said Alana Gilmer. “I didn’t feel the need to change a thing, bad games happen sometimes.”
The Red Foxes got stat sheet-filling performances from Rebekah Hand (16 points and 12 rebounds) and Willow Duffell (13 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists). Grace Vander Weide was the fourth Marist player in double-figures, finishing with 13 points and eight assists.
“How about the assists?” said Giorgis, when asked about Duffell. “She made one pass that we didn’t know she could make. It was a ‘wow’ moment.”
Niagara (7-13, 5-6 in the MAAC) was led in scoring by Jai Moore, who tied Gilmer with a game-high 23. Moore, who had 25 in the first meeting, scored 15 points in the first half, making all five of her three-point attempts. Emerald Ekpiteta was the only other Purple Eagle in double figures with 10.
The Purple Eagles were able to avoid falling behind early, trading 7-0 runs with Marist and taking a 17-13 lead into the second quarter. Moore hit a trio of threes in the second stanza, including one that put her team up 27-22. The Red Foxes stormed back with an 11-0 run, punctuated by a Hand three that put Marist up 33-27. Niagara managed to re-tie the game, but Vander Weide hit three to beat the buzzer and give the Red Foxes a 38-35 halftime lead.
The third-quarter run has been a motif in the story of Marist basketball this season. An outburst felt inevitable, and indeed it was as Gilmer and Duffell spurred the Red Foxes on with inside scoring and unselfish passing. A 7-2 run had Marist up 45-37, but the real spark came when Hannah Hand checked in for the first time. She scored five quick points, finishing a three-point play and hitting a jumper to make it 52-37. The Red Foxes continued to pour it on, with Rebekah Hand getting back into the action and hitting a jumper to make it 65-42 at the end of the quarter.
“Hannah Hand gave us some quality minutes off the bench and these guys (Hand and Gilmer) were able to take over,” said Giorgis.
The 27-7 explosion was more than enough separation for Marist. Duffell scored off a dish from Vander Weide to push it to 74-47, giving the Red Foxes their biggest lead of the night. Giorgis began to empty his bench, getting walk-on Camille Loussedes a seldom seen opportunity. It was a chance she took advantage of, making a late layup for the first points of her college career, drawing some of the loudest cheers of the night and capping off the win in style.
Marist got whatever they wanted in the paint, finishing 35-of-66 (53%) from the floor. A five-of-19 performance from three took a backseat as the Red Foxes scored 50 in the paint. Marist finished with an impressive 26 assists against a troubling 18 turnovers. The Red Foxes dominated on the boards, winning the rebounding margin 43-27.
Niagara could only manage a 21-of-57 (37%) performance from the floor. The Purple Eagles finished eight-of-19 from long range and equaled Marist with 18 turnovers.
The Red Foxes will be back in action on Tuesday when they travel to New Rochelle to face Iona. Tip-off is scheduled for 11 a.m.
Edited by Will Bjarnar
Header photo by Mike Cahill