For a moment, all felt right in the world after Marist’s series sweep against Niagara back in late January. Of course, that feeling did not last very long. Just four days later, Marist found themselves on yet another pause due to a positive COVID-19 case among Niagara’s tier 1 personnel. Contract tracing protocols required Marist to halt all team activities until further notice due to their exposure to one another during the previous weekend series.
As of February 1, Marist announced that team activities were able to resume and as a result, Marist’s series against Rider, which was originally scheduled for the weekend of January 30 and 31, would now take place on February 7 and 8.
Alas, here we are…
Who, What, When, and Where?
Rider (5-14, 4-10 MAAC) vs. Marist (10-2, 8-2 MAAC)
Dates: Sunday, February 7, and Monday, February 8
Location: McCann Arena, Poughkeepsie, NY
TV: Sunday – 1 pm, ESPN+; Monday – 5 pm, ESPN3
Series History: Marist leads 46-18
Current Streak: Marist and Rider have split their last 10 matchups
Last Game: The two teams’ last matchup occurred on February 11, 2020, which resulted in a close 63-58 victory for the Red Foxes
Red Foxes’ Keys to Victory
Clean, consistent basketball. It is that simple for the Red Foxes this weekend. During the first series game against Niagara on January 22, the Red Foxes came out flat and sloppily finished the game. The Red Foxes totaled 28 turnovers, which was the most by a Marist team since 2016 where they totaled 30 turnovers against Auburn. Marist shot just three-for-10 from three-point range and just 63 percentage at the foul line.
Despite cleaning up their act in the second game against Niagara, the Red Foxes will need to fix their sloppy errors and clean up their shooting tactics to lock up the series this weekend.
As we have noted time and time again, Marist’s defense, led by Willow Duffell, Allie Best, and Caitlin Weimar, is what drives this Marist team forward. Their defense came up big down the stretch versus Niagara and it will continue to be a critical aspect for Marist as their season winds down.
The Red Foxes must make sure they are playing consistent and clean basketball from the start. As we have seen in many games against “weaker” opponents, Marist tends to play down to their level. With that said, the Red Foxes must play up to their full potential rather than stooping down to the level of a young Rider squad this weekend. Coming off a pause may impact the Red Foxes early in the game. If, however, Marist picks up the pressure early and fixes their simple mechanics, especially on the offensive side of the ball, they will be difficult for Rider to handle.
Red Foxes to Watch
I think Willow Duffell is going to have another major weekend. Keep an eye on her. She was one of the few bright spots during Marist’s messy overtime win against Niagara on January 22nd.
Duffell, the 6-foot-2 senior, totaled a career-high 27 points. 23 of those points came during the second half or overtime which were critical to the Red Foxes win. She was nine-for-10 from the free-throw line, which has been a major difficulty for many Red Foxes this season. Duffell is the only full-time starter for Marist who is above 80 percent at the foul line. She is Marist’s second-leading scorer, averaging 11.5 points per game. Duffell has proven to be a true “senior leader” for the Red Foxes and has stepped up in big ways for her predominantly young team. Expect her to have another big weekend.
Keeping in theme with senior leaders, do not forget to keep an eye on Allie Best. The senior point guard has been a very consistent player for the Red Foxes this season, and as mentioned before, consistency will be key for this series. Best is the team’s top three-point shooter at 42 percent for the season, averages 7.3 points per game, and has totaled 66 assists. Best is a true team player and has flown under the radar each week. Keep an eye out for her this weekend. Duffell and Best have proven to be great leaders for this young Marist team.
Broncs’ Key to Success
The Broncs’ record is yet another deceiving one. Currently, Rider ranks 8th in MAAC play holding a conference record of 4-10 and an overall record of 5-14. However, the Broncs’ are currently on a three-game win streak completing a sweep against Monmouth last weekend, (holding the Hawks to 33 points per game) as well notching a shocking 77-74 overtime win against Quinnipiac on January 23, which our own Jonathan Kinane called the “MAAC Upset of the Year.”
The key for Rider will be finding ways to capitalize on the common mechanical errors the Red Foxes have continued to make during the season. Things such as turnovers, foul shooting, and three-point production. The Broncs’ must find the cracks and flaws in Marist’s offense and find ways to put points on the board as a result.
Rider only shoots 27 percent from beyond the arc. The Broncs have to find ways to improve their shooting from long distance if they stand any chance against Marist. Free throw shooting is an area where the Red Foxes can be exploited. Rider shoots 71 percent at the charity stripe, while Marist is only at 66 percent.
Rider has played more games than Marist which may play to their advantage as well. They have played against numerous out of conference opponents such as Villanova, Drexel, and Army West Point. Even though all of these games resulted in losses, experience is experience.
Broncs to Watch
5-foot-10 Freshman Guard, Makayla Firebaugh, will be the Bronc to keep an eye on this weekend. Firebaugh recently racked up both MAAC Player and Rookie of the Week honors this past week after averaging 16 points per game and 7 rebounds per game during Rider’s series sweep against Monmouth.
She tallied a career-high 26 points and nine rebounds on Saturday, January 30. Firebaugh was also 6-of-6 from the line and shoots 86 percent at the charity stripe. She is the highest scoring Bronc averaging 10.3 points per game. On the defensive side of the ball, Firebaugh is sneaky and quick totaling 19 steals and six blocks. Marist will need to contain her from the field and keep her off the line this weekend.
Victoria Toomey will be another Bronc to keep an eye on. The 6-foot-2 Sophomore Center will be a major presence on the inside. Look for her matchup against Weimar or Duffell in the paint. Toomey currently has 32 steals, 94 rebounds (70 defensive, 24 offensive), and is averaging 7.1 points per game.
Even though Rider has had moments that make you want to buy all in on their team, I do not think they are ready for the physicality and toughness of this Marist team. We must tip our hats to Rider for their dominant win against Quinnipiac. Rider deserves to be recognized for their power performance there. They stood strong the whole game and proved they can perform in the MAAC. However, as we know, Quinnipiac has been inconsistent this year too. Do not forget Marist’s dominant defensive performance against the Bobcats on January 3 that resulted in another shocking 69-50 victory for the Red Foxes.
With that said, it wouldn’t be fair to say Rider is coming in as the better team versus Marist because of their one statement game against Quinnipiac. We cannot judge a team off of one performance. Marist has been difficult for many teams in the MAAC and I think they will be difficult for Rider to handle as well. The Red Foxes will need to play two full games of consistent and clean basketball on both offense and defense this weekend. They will also need to shut down power players like Makayla Firebaugh to ensure the series sweep.
Rider no doubt has a shot. If they play the way they did against Quinnipiac they will give Marist a run for its money. The Broncs are coming off a three-game win streak, confidence is high for them. Marist on the other hand is coming off a pause in play. Two very different dynamics. Execution will be critical for both teams. However, I believe Marist will break Rider’s win streak this weekend and notch two tallies in the win column by the end of the weekend.
Before you kick back, relax, and enjoy the Super Bowl this weekend, make sure you tune in to watch some Marist Women’s Basketball at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and then again on Monday at 5 p.m. These ladies are legit.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane