One wonders how the players on both Marist and Saint Peter’s will sleep tonight. The Red Foxes head coach Brian Giorgis has been to 14 MAAC Tournament finals, but senior forward Willow Duffell and senior guard Allie Best are the only members of his 15th title game squad that have any experience on such a big stage.
The Peacocks have not been to a MAAC Tournament final since 2002, the year before Giorgis took over at Marist. After a solid regular-season and wins over Iona and Rider in the first two rounds of the tournament, head coach Marc Mitchell looks to lead his team to glory after finishing 9-21 last season.
Saint Peter’s may have gotten lucky to avoid Quinnipiac in the semifinals, but they defeated a Rider squad that gave everything it had. In college basketball, you always want to peak in March, and that is what the Peacocks, winners of six of their last seven, are doing.
Last Time Out:
You don’t have to go back very far to find the last time these teams met. It was only a week ago in Poughkeepsie. Saint Peter’s made this game possible by defeating a Caitlin Weimar-less Marist squad 58-51 to move from the five-seed to the third-seed in Atlantic City. The Red Foxes rolled to a 16-point win in game one, but much like the Fairfield series, blew a double-digit lead in the second half of game two.
The Red Foxes did a pretty good job of containing all-MAAC selection redshirt senior guard Taiah Thornton, making her shoot the ball 21 times to get to 19 points in the second leg of the series. Junior guard Sarah Barcello led Marist with 13 points, and Duffell and freshman forward Zaria Demember-Shazer were also in double-figures. But the rest of the team struggled, and the Red Foxes only scored five points in the fourth quarter and could not even put a scare into the Peacocks down the stretch.
Marist Keys to the Game:
Including Saint Peter’s, every team that Marist has matched up against has something in common: a star player. Siena had graduate student guard Isis Young, and Fairfield had junior forward Lou Lopez-Senechal. Now Saint Peter’s comes in with Thornton, an all-MAAC first-teamer. She averages 14.3 points per game and is not afraid to shoot with reckless abandon. If Marist can contain Thornton like they limited Young and Lopez-Senechal, it will force someone else to step up. In a game like this, that’s what you want.
This may be a cliche, but you need to make your free throws. In the Red Foxes’ loss to Saint Peter’s, they shot eight-of-16 from the free-throw line. Foul shooting is an issue that plagued Marist for most of the season, and it once again reared its ugly head during the quarterfinal matchup with Siena. The Red Foxes struggled mightily down the stretch but did turn in a better performance from the charity stripe against Fairfield. If the game tomorrow is close, the pressure to convert from the foul line will be at an all-time high. If the high-volume foul shooters like Duffell, Weimar, and sophomore guard Trinasia Kennedy can hit, it could help send Marist to San Antonio.
Saint Peter’s Keys to the Game:
If Saint Peter’s wants to win this game, they will have to hold their ground in the paint. Marist has the best rebounding margin in the MAAC, but the Peacocks outrebounded the Red Foxes by nine per contest during the two matchups in Poughkeepsie. If they are able to control the glass against Weimar and Duffell, they might make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 19 years.
Saint Peter’s can also get production out of its post players. Freshman guard/forward Ajia James and freshman forward Sky Castro have both picked up their play late in the season. James registered four straight double-doubles before the Marist series, and both are no stranger to the MAAC weekly honor roll. The question is if they can be productive against Duffell and Weimar.
Red Fox to Watch:
This team is so darn balanced. It could be anyone. I’ll give it to Duffell because she’s scored in double-figures in her last eight games, and I see no reason for that streak to end tomorrow afternoon. Duffell probably is not happy about her final home game ended, and the sweetest revenge would be a win that sends her team to the big dance. If Marist has the ball and the chance to win, I want the ball in her hands.
Peacock to Watch:
Usually, I’d pick Thornton, but I think that Marist will neutralize her tomorrow. James, the freshman, has the chance to be the hero that comes out of right field in the big game. If she can stay on the court, she is one of the players that can help take the scoring load off Thornton’s shoulders. Thornton could prove me wrong and go for 25, but I think someone else on Saint Peter’s is going to have to step up. James is the most likely candidate.
I picked against the Red Foxes last night and being the superstitious guy I am, I feel tempted to do it again. I think Marist is the better team, and I think their balance is what gets them through to their first NCAA Tournament since 2014.
Marist 64, Saint Peter’s 58
Edited by Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Mike Cahill