After losing a heartbreaker to Fairfield last Saturday, Marist hung on for dear life but managed to escape on the right side of a 66-60 overtime thriller at Niagara. The win was Marist’s 12th straight at the Gallagher Center.
“We’re not used to that style of play,” Marist Head Coach Brian Giorgis said of Niagara’s pressure defense. “We couldn’t replicate it in practice but now we know what mistakes we made and we’ll try to fix those for tomorrow’s game. Credit to them for playing loose and hard.”
Leading 51-43 with just over two minutes remaining in regulation, victory should have been a sure thing for Marist. It was anything but.
Niagara’s Ally Haar hit two threes to bring the deficit down to 53-49 with under a minute left. The usually reliable Allie Best had her pocket picked by Maddy Yelle, whose layup made it 53-51 with 32 seconds left.
Leading 55-53 with inside 20 seconds left, Best, an 80 percent free-throw shooter, missed a pair, giving the Purple Eagles a chance to tie or take the lead. Angel Parker, Niagara’s best player, capitalized, driving to the hoop to tie the game at 55 with under five seconds left. Willow Duffell’s game-winning attempt was blocked, and the teams headed for five minutes of extra play.
“We have to do a better job making free throws down the stretch,” Giorgis said. “We missed three of four late in the game tonight and in our losses this season.”
Were the ghosts of close losses and mistakes down the stretch going to haunt the Red Foxes again? Mistakes ended up being costly for both teams, as they both combined for 55 turnovers.
Even with mistakes and having the pressure on from a close game, Duffell scored on the first overtime possession, and the Red Foxes never trailed during overtime. Haar sank two free throws to make it 62-60 with 25 seconds left, but Duffell answered, going four-for-four from the charity stripe in the closing seconds to seal the win.
Duffell had a career-high 27, with 24 of those points coming in the second half or overtime. She shot nine-for-12 from the floor and nine-for-10 from the free-throw line.
“Willow was outstanding tonight. She kept making plays inside. We needed to come through, and she did time after time.”
Zaria Demember-Shazer was the only other Red Fox in double-figures with 10, a testament to the magnitude of Duffell’s offensive effort.
Best and Trinasia Kennedy struggled for most of the game, combining for 12 turnovers (Kennedy had 9). The sophomore from Binghamton scored 26 last time out. Though she only had five tonight, she did hit a big three in overtime.
Marist (9-2, 7-2 in the MAAC) shot 24-for-52 (46 percent) from the floor, but only three-for-10 from distance and 15-for-24 from the foul line.
They committed a mind-bending 28 turnovers, their most in a game since a 30 giveaway performance against Auburn in 2016.
Niagara (1-2, 1-2 in the MAAC) shot 21-for-61 (34 percent) from the field and four-for-17 from three-point range. The Purple Eagles did a much better job converting from the charity stripe, finishing 14-for-16.
They finished with 27 turnovers and lost the rebounding battle, 38-34.
Haar came on late and finished with a team-high 16. The Red Foxes did a good job limiting Parker, who only finished with 11.
Marist struggled mightily against Niagara’s pressure defense, turning the ball nine times in the opening ten minutes.
The Red Foxes opened the game on an over four-minute scoring drought and fell behind 6-0. The only player that could take the lid off the basket was Demember-Shazer, who scored all six Red Foxes’ first-quarter points. Parker scored four points in the last 15 seconds of the first to give her team a 15-6 lead.
In the second quarter, it looked like Marist was ready to take control. The Red Foxes pulled within 17-16 with five minutes left in the half after Duffell scored inside to cap an 11-2 run. The Purple Eagles took a timeout and regrouped. At times, it seemed like Marist was surprised by their opponent’s in-your-face physical play. After Kendall Krick hit a jumper to cut the deficit to 23-20, Haar drew a foul on a jumper, made the shot, and converted the three-point play to bring the lead back to six. Neither of the teams managed to score over the last two minutes of the half, and Niagara took a 26-20 advantage to the break.
Giorgis’ halftime message was an obvious one: get the ball inside. Duffell converted two layups in the early minutes of the second half, and Weimar added another to tie things at 26. The Red Foxes took their first lead after Duffell converted two free throws to finish an 8-0 run.
“We had to go inside because it was the only thing that was available,” Giorgis continued. “We just passed it around the perimeter for a lot of the first half. We really have to do a better job with not turning the ball over.”
Anabel Ellison gave Marist some productive bench minutes, finishing two transition layups, the second of which stretched the Red Foxes’ new-found lead to 38-30 with under two minutes left in the quarter. With seconds left, Kennedy atoned for her offensive mistakes in the first half, stealing an inbound pass and finishing on the other end to make it 40-32 with ten minutes left.
Mason hit a jumper to bring it back to 40-36 early in the fourth, but Best nailed a three on the other end to extend the lead back to seven. Duffell added another interior score to make it 45-36 with 7:38 left.
December-Shazer converted a layup after getting a steal to go up 51-43 with 2:28 left. At that point, Marist looked poised to win comfortably. Oh, how things can change in just two minutes of game time.
The two teams will meet again tomorrow at 4 p.m. inside the Gallagher Center.
Edited by Mackenzie Meaney
Photo by William Carpenter