Marist played its most complete game of the season, dispatching Fairfield 66-50 in the first semifinal of the MAAC Tournament. The Red Foxes improve to 15-1 in the MAAC semifinals and will play in their fourth consecutive title game (not counting last year).
“These guys are resilient,” Marist Head Coach Brian Giorgis said after the win. “The biggest thing is that they believe in themselves. They knew we lost a ton of players from last year, but this team believes in their defense and in each other.”
Marist fans had unsettling memories of their last date against the Stags that saw the Red Foxes lose a 15-point second-half lead and eventually the game.
Giorgis’s team never trailed in the game and always had the answer whenever Fairfield pulled to within a few possessions. The Stags trademark 2-3 zone made their quarterfinal opponent Manhattan uncomfortable, holding the Jaspers to 40 points on Thursday afternoon. Marist did not necessarily obliterate the zone, but they were comfortable running their sets for most of the day.
“It was great to have four players in double-figures and another one with nine,” Giorgis continued. “Caitlin was back with us, and she made a huge difference. This is where they wanted to be. If I have to give a motivational speech tomorrow, they don’t belong here.”
The Red Foxes shot 39 percent from the field and made eight-of-24 shots from long range. They made 14-of-19 from the free-throw line and outrebounded Fairfield 39-31.
Senior Willow Duffell had a monster game playing from the high post, totaling 17 points, nine rebounds, and six assists in 36 minutes of action. She made seven-of-eight from the foul line.
“I knew going in that I was going to have to hit those baby jumpers from the high post and look to be a passer and hit the shooters on the outside,” Duffell said in the postgame press conference. “Everyone stuck to their roles, and I thought we did a really good job of following the scout and taking things one possession at a time.”
Sophomore Trinasia Kennedy tied her teammate with 17, including three makes from beyond the arc. Junior Sarah Barcello added 12, and Senior Allie Best chipped in with 11.
“I think we’ve been working really hard all season, and we knew we had to come out here and get what we wanted,” Kennedy said after the game. “It was a nice time to just get out there and compete, and since it’s March we know anyone can come out here and win, so we just want to give it our best shot.”
MAAC Co-Rookie of the Year Caitlin Weimar played through the pain after missing the last two games with a knee injury. She wore a bulky brace and came off the bench to score nine points in 23 minutes.
All season long, the Red Foxes have hung their hat on their defense, and today was not any different. The Stags barely eclipsed 30 percent from the floor, and the league’s top three-point shooting team only made four of their 20 attempts from distance.
“The biggest difference is that we have (associate head coach) Erin Doughty and they don’t,” Giorgis added. “She’s been doing that scout for 18 years, and she had her kids at the right place at the right time, and we made it difficult for them to score.”
Junior Forward Lou Lopez-Senechal could only manage 11 points on three-of-11 shooting. Redshirt junior Callie Cavanaugh led the Stags with 16 points, as Marist forced Fairfield to look elsewhere for scoring. The team’s second-leading scorer Katie Armstrong only managed three points, going one-of-11 for the afternoon.
The Red Foxes looked comfortable against Fairfield’s 2-3 zone, getting the ball into the high post early and often. Duffell scored Marist’s first eight points of the game, helping her team to an early lead.
Kennedy drained her second three of the afternoon to stretch the advantage to 26-15 with 4:29 left in the first half. After a six-for-21 start from the floor, the Stags finally started to hit shots.
Coming off the bench, graduate student Sam Lewis hit a pair of threes that helped Fairfield draw within 28-25 with 1:15 left in the half. With the momentum seemingly ready to swing toward the Stags, Marist had the answer. Best nailed a three, and Kennedy came up with a steal and an easy layup. The Red Foxes took an eight-point lead into the locker room.
Marist stretched the lead to 40-27 after Duffell found Barcello for a layup. Cavanaugh sank a jumper to pull within 43-36 with 4:23 left in the third, but the Red Foxes had the rebuttal yet again. Marist shredded the zone for threes by Barcello and Kennedy on consecutive possessions to restore its 13-point lead. The Red Foxes went into fourth with a 53-40 advantage.
A pair of Kennedy layups in the early fourth quarter went a long way in quelling the memories of past blown leads late in games. Fairfield could only get as close as 58-46 with 4:50 left. A three-point play from Weimar on the next possession proved a knockout punch, making it a 15-point game with 4:26 left.
“They are pumped, and they are ready to go,” Giorgis added, speaking of his team as they head to the MAAC Tournament finals where the Red Foxes will play the winner of Saint Peter’s and Rider. Tip-off is set for Saturday morning at 11 a.m.
Edited by Mackenzie Meaney
Photo by Marist Athletics