Marist survived a late charge from Rider in a 63-58 road victory that had all the drama of a winner-take-all postseason matchup.
The Red Foxes regained possession of first place in the MAAC with the win. Victory seemed like a certainty for Marist with the lead swelling to 19 at the beginning of the second half. That was not the case as the Broncs found their groove on offense and forced Marist into 12 second half turnovers. After seeing its almost insurmountable lead cut to a single score, the Red Foxes buckled down on defense, made clutch foul shots, and avenged last month’s overtime loss.
“It was a great win,” said Marist head coach Brian Giorgis. “They were undefeated at home, first place in the MAAC, and they have the best defense in the league. It was one of our best wins of the season.”
Marist, now 18-4 overall and 11-2 in the MAAC, got a team-high 20 points from Rebekah Hand, who made ten-of-11 shots from the free-throw line. No other Red Foxes reached double figures. Alana Gilmer contributed nine points, Willow Duffell had eight points and seven rebounds, and Grace Vander Weide pitched in with seven points and 10 rebounds.
“I’m so proud of the team after this win,” said Hand. “After the Fairfield loss, we turned on each other a little bit. We wanted to make sure that in the next close game we played we would stick together and fight it out.”
Rider, now 17-4 overall and 10-2 in the MAAC, got a game high 26 points on ten-of-24 shooting from Stella Johnson, the nation’s leading scorer. Amanda Mobley added 17 and Lea Favre, who had 24 in the previous meeting, was held to just six points, going two-of-ten from the floor thanks to a splendid defensive effort from Duffell.
Marist held a 13-11 lead after a first quarter where both teams had trouble making shots. The difficulties intensified for the Broncs as they missed their first 15 shots of the second quarter. The halftime margin could have been even more lopsided if it was not for a four and a half minute period of scoreless basketball. Johnson finally scored on a jumper for Rider to end a ten and a half minute drought. Molly Smith responded for Marist, putting up a shot that found the bottom of the net just as the horn sounded and giving the Red Foxes a 28-13 advantage at the intermission. Sarah Barcello scored four points in the first 11 seconds of the third quarter to stretch the lead to 19, Marist’s largest of the game.
Rider’s offense, led by Johnson, began to click in the second half. The senior guard hit a jumpshot that cut it to 32-20 and a three that made it 34-27, capping off a 14-2 run that saw her score ten quick points for the Broncs.
“They started to make shots and we started to miss,” Giorgis explained. “Stella Johnson took over and we had trouble stopping her.”
When it looked like things might get tight in the third, the Red Foxes responded. Vander Weide and Hand scored on consecutive possessions and the lead was back up 16. Marist had responded with a 12-3 run of their own to make it 46-30. The Red Foxes would take a 47-33 lead into the fourth quarter but a Daija Moses three-pointer late in the third for the Broncs was a harbinger of things to come.
Rider immediately set about chipping away at the lead once again. Mobley hit a three that brought it back to 53-43 with seven minutes left. Rebekah Hand took it upon herself to keep the Broncs at arm’s length, connecting on a layup and making a pair of free throws to keep the lead at 10 with just over four minutes left.
An inability to take care of the ball allowed Rider to whittle the lead down to a single possession after a jumpshot from Favre. Marist held on to a tenuous 57-55 lead with just over a minute left. Another Red Foxes turnover gave the Broncs a chance to tie or take the lead. Two missed game-tying shots from Stella and Amari Johnson led to Duffell securing the rebound and Vander Weide hitting four crucial free throws that effectively iced the game, allowing the Marist faithful to finally exhale after a nerve-racking final stretch.
“The seniors made clutch free throws down the stretch,” said Giorgis. “Grace made the ones at the end and Rebekah Hand is possibly the best foul shooter I’ve seen.”
The Red Foxes shot 21-of-52 from the field but only one-of-ten from beyond the arc. The free throw line played a crucial role in the victory as Marist turned in a 20-of-24 performance. The Red Foxes assisted on 15 of 21 made baskets but committed 16 turnovers with plenty coming down the stretch.
Rider was held to 23-of-63 shooting. The Broncs were able to hit threes at a much steadier clip than Marist, going seven-for-17 in the defeat. Rider outrebounded the Red Foxes 37-35 but only shot eight free throws on the night.
It will be a quick turnaround for the Red Foxes as they will host Canisius on Thursday night in their second meeting of the season.
Edited by David Connelly