After getting all it could handle from a scrappy Siena team on Wednesday afternoon, Marist will face fourth-seeded Fairfield in a MAAC Tournament semifinal matchup on Friday morning.
The Stags are not any ordinary four-seed. They posted a 9-3 record in conference play and would have been a higher seed if the MAAC used winning percentage to determine the tournament matchups. Fairfield cruised to a 51-40 quarterfinal win over pre-season favorite Manhattan after an 18-day break between games.
Last Time Out:
With 15 minutes left in the second game of the Marist-Fairfield regular-season series, it looked like the Red Foxes were going to walk away with a road sweep of the Stags. After a 56-38 victory the night before, Marist held a 15-point lead in the later stages of the third quarter but ended the game on a seven-minute scoring drought. MAAC Preseason Player of the Year Lou Lopez-Senechal got a fortunate bounce on a game-winning jumper and the Red Foxes committed one final turnover in a game where the team gave the ball away 18 times.
Marist’s Keys to Victory:
One of the Red Foxes’ most important players might not play tomorrow. On Wednesday, Caitlin Weimar missed her second straight game with a knee injury that she sustained last week against Saint Peter’s. Weimar was a crucial part of Marist’s success in its first three halves of basketball against the Stags. She was the beneficiary of the high-low game between her and Willow Duffell and provided height that Fairfield had a difficult time matching.
With or without Weimar, the Red Foxes still need to take advantage on the glass. Fairfield plays a lot of zone defense which makes it harder for players to find a body and box out. Marist won the rebounding battle in both games and will likely need to again if they want to advance. Ball movement and getting the ball to the free-throw line area will be paramount to solving Joe Frager’s vexing defense.
Fairfield’s Keys to Victory:
The Stags are going to need to play a complete game if they want to advance to the finals on Saturday. The fact is that Marist was the better team for the two games in Connecticut. The Stags need to attack against the Red Foxes’ pack-line defense and not settle for contested jump shots. This is easier said than done, but without Weimar, Marist may be more vulnerable inside.
Fairfield is the best three-point shooting team in the MAAC, and it’s easy to see why with options like Lopez-Senechal, Sam Lewis, and Rachel Hakes, who are all over 40 percent from beyond the arc for the season. The Stags don’t need to wildly chuck up threes but rather play inside-out to find open looks. The Red Foxes held Fairfield well below their season average from three in both games because many of those looks were contested and came near the end of the shot clock. If the Stags can find ways to drive and kick, some of those shots may go down this time.
Red Fox to Watch:
Weimar’s status is worth keeping an eye on, but one Red Fox that is definitely suiting up tomorrow is Trinasia Kennedy. The sophomore exploded for a career-high 26 points in the second game against Fairfield. She has become one of Marist’s more reliable scoring options but hangs her hat on being one of the best defenders in the MAAC. She helped contain Siena’s Isis Young, the league’s leading scorer to just 11 points on 17 shots. She also made life difficult for Lopez-Senechal, teaming with Kendall Krick to hold her to nine-for-34 from the field in the regular-season series. The Red Foxes don’t need Kennedy to go off for a new career-high, but another solid game on both ends could help Marist punch its ticket to the final.
Stag to Watch:
Is there really a question of who this is going to be? Lou Lopez-Senechal is a top-three player in the MAAC and when Fairfield needs a basket, the ball goes to her. She can’t afford to repeat her cold performance against the Red Foxes back in January. Though she did hit the game-winner in the second leg of the series, most of her shots missed the mark because they were forced or contested. She doesn’t need to chuck up shots left and right, but she also can’t pass up open looks. Lopez-Senechal missed some good looks in both games at Fairfield, but don’t expect her to repeat the mistake for the third time in Atlantic City.
I feel like conventional wisdom tells me to pick Marist in this game. They dominated in the first game of the series and practically gave it away the next night. The Red Foxes have enough weapons to pick apart Fairfield’s 2-3 zone, but the odds of Weimar playing don’t seem all that favorable and I’m not always the most rational person. I think the Stags’ experience is the deciding factor in a close, low-scoring game.
Fairfield 54, Marist 50
Edited by Nicholas Stanziale
Photo Credit: Mike Cahill