Marist collected its tenth consecutive win in a 59-47 slugfest over Iona on Thursday in the McCann Center.
The second to last regular-season game for the senior class looked like it was going to be a romp for the home team. The first meeting saw the Red Foxes build a 34-point lead, ultimately coming away with a 73-56 victory. This time, Iona made a comeback effort that put a legitimate scare into the Marist faithful. The Red Foxes saw their 24-point lead cut to just four before they would respond.
“It was a win,” Marist Head Coach Brian Giorgis elegantly stated. “We tip our hats to Iona for having a nice second half, but we had a horrible start to the fourth quarter and we had to persevere, which we were able to do.”
Marist, now 24-4 overall and 17-2 in the MAAC, had four players in double-digits. Rebekah Hand led the way with a team-high 15 points on five-of-11 shooting. Sarah Barcello and Alana Gilmer each had 13 points and Willow Duffell chipped in with 10 of her own.
“When our big three don’t have a day and we are still able to beat a quality opponent, it’s a good win,” said Giorgis. “Luckily Sarah (Barcello) and Willow (Duffell) were able to step up.”
Iona, now 9-19 overall and 8-11 in the MAAC, was paced by a game-high 17 points from Morgan Rachu, all of her points coming in the second half. Juana Camilion was the only other Gael in double figures with 14.
Marist set the early tone on the defensive side of the ball, holding Iona to just two-of-nine shooting from the floor in the first quarter. Despite a lukewarm shooting effort of their own, the Red Foxes held a 12-5 lead after ten minutes.
While the defense continued to stifle the Gaels, the offense began to heat up and gain some separation. Hand and Barcello hit back-to-back threes to push the advantage to 22-9 and force an Iona timeout. As Marist continued to extend its lead, Iona could not get out of its own way. At one point the Gaels committed four traveling violations in five possessions. Gilmer converted a layup to cap a 19-4 run that sent the Red Foxes into the break with a 33-13 cushion.
Marist’s defense continued to make things difficult for the Gaels. Their first field goal of the third quarter did not come until De’jah Williams connected on a jumper at the 6:05 mark. On the ensuing possession, Gilmer converted a jumper of her own to stretch the lead to 41-17. With a 24-point lead midway through the third quarter, things should not have been difficult for the Red Foxes. They were.
Iona surreptitiously began to find their footing. The Gaels were able to trade baskets with Marist and managed to slowly cut into their deficit as the Red Foxes stagnated on offense. Sharpshooter Morgan Rachu finally connected on a three that brought it to 45-26. Barcello split a pair of free throws to give Marist a 20-point advantage heading into the final quarter.
Despite being down 20 with ten minutes to play, the Gaels knew they were not out of it. A quick 7-0 run, keyed by another three from Rachu, reduced the lead to 46-33, forcing Giorgis to call a timeout. It was now the Red Foxes who could not keep possession of the basketball, turning it over three consecutive times. Rachu and Camilion sandwiched threes between a Gilmer layup to make it 48-39 with 5:49 left. Rachu suddenly could not miss and after two more turnovers, she drained another three to cut the lead to 48-44 and capping a 27-7 run that spanned over 10 minutes.
“It really gave life to their bench,” said Giorgis. “We made some silly mistakes, silly turnovers against the press but our defense was able to make plays down the stretch.”
Leading by four with 4:38 left, Marist found itself in a position where it needed to buckle down. The Red Foxes did. It was not pretty but Marist did enough to get the victory in the penultimate game of their season.
The Red Foxes shot 21-for-52 from the field and just five-for-17 from three-point range. They also turned in one of their worst foul shooting performances of the year, going just 12-for-23 (Gilmer was three-of-nine). Uncharacteristically, Marist had just 12 assists against a sloppy 16 turnovers.
The Gaels only managed an 18-for-48 effort from the field and seven-for-25 mark from beyond the arc. Their assist-to-turnover ratio was even worse than Marist’s, finishing with 10 assists and 22 giveaways.
The Red Foxes will be back in action on Saturday, senior night, against Siena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pre-game festivities set to begin 20 minutes beforehand.
“It should be an emotional game on Saturday,” said Rebekah Hand. “We’re looking forward to playing in front of a great crowd.”
Edited by David Connelly