Put on your dancing shoes folks, Cinderella is heading back to the ball.
The Marist Red Foxes earned a resounding 69-30 victory over Saint Peter’s in the MAAC Tournament Final on Saturday afternoon.
“This group was not to be denied,” Marist Head Coach Brian Giorgis said after the win. “They’re the most amazing group of people I’ve ever seen. I remember telling my closest friends that we’d be lucky to win two games because we lost so many seniors and so much of our scoring. To go 18-3 and put on a performance like this on both ends of the floor was amazing.”
Marist will appear in its first NCAA Tournament since 2014. The program is now 11-4 in bid-clinching games.
“They’re all really special,” Giorgis said of his MAAC Championships. “But this one and my very first one are probably the two best because nobody expected it. I don’t think anyone thought we were going to do it this year. These guys were just amazing this year. The other teams didn’t have to go through COVID and quarantines. That really helps make this one as special as any one I’ve ever had.”
“One of the biggest reasons I came here was because I thought this was the best opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament,” Senior guard Allie Best said after the game. “It’s really a dream come true. It’s hard to explain the adversity we’ve gone through this season, and everybody bought in. I can’t thank my teammates enough for this.”
Most mid-major programs would take a tournament berth every seven years, but Marist made nine consecutive appearances from 2006-2014 and lost their share of heartbreaking MAAC finals in the time since. Today felt extra sweet.
The Red Foxes got whatever they wanted down low against the Peacocks, finishing with 42 points in the paint. Marist shot 49 percent from the field despite only hitting five-of-14 from beyond the arc.
Senior Willow Duffell paced all scorers with 20 points and added 13 rebounds for yet another double-double.
Freshman Caitlin Weimar continued to play through the pain, notching 12 points, nine rebounds, and six blocks.
“I told Caitlin the past two days that I could cry because I’m so proud of her,” Duffell said of her freshman protégé. “She’s pushed through a serious injury, stepped up, put on that bulky brace, and kicked some butt.”
Junior Sarah Barcello added nine and Best finished with six points and eight assists.
Marist’s defense continued to steal the show, allowing a season-low of 30 points. Saint Peter’s scored 14 points in the second quarter and 16 in the other 30 minutes. The Peacocks only managed an 11-for-53 performance (21 percent) from the floor and three-for-17 from long range.
“The defensive performance we put on in this tournament was nothing short of amazing,” Giorgis continued. “Having Caitlin back is a huge boost, but the person that needs to get credit for a lot of this is Trinasia Kennedy.”
Kennedy continued to successfully run the gauntlet of the MAAC’s most talented offensive players. She helped hold Peacocks star Taiah Thornton to four points on one-of-nine shooting.
Junior Binta Salawu and freshman Ajia James led Saint Peter’s with six points apiece.
The Red Foxes got off to a dominant start, going inside early and often to Weimar and Duffell, who were the main contributors to a 12-0 run in the first five minutes. Saint Peter’s only made one-of-10 first-quarter field goal attempts, and the Marist continued to hum for a 20-5 lead after ten minutes.
The Peacocks are a talented team, and they flipped the script on the Red Foxes. A 10-0 run drew Saint Peter’s back within five with 6:30 left in the first half. Marist lost its offensive identity and lapsed into a five-and-a-half-minute scoring drought.
The Red Foxes re-established their post players and got the offense flowing again. Marist scored the last eight points of the half (all in the paint), stole momentum away from the Peacocks, and took a 32-19 advantage to the locker room.
The boost from the end of the first half sparked the Red Foxes to greater heights in the second half. Marist continued to attack the paint and broke the game open with a 14-0 run over a three-and-a-half-minute stretch early in the third quarter. The Red Foxes pack-line defense vexed the Peacocks into an almost nine-minute field goal drought and a one-of-eight shooting output in the third quarter.
Marist won the quarter 19-5 and took a 51-24 lead into the last ten minutes.
The Red Foxes stretched the lead beyond 30 in the fourth quarter and set the stage for a stress-free exit for the starters. Best and Duffell left to a standing ovation at the six-minute mark, and Kennedy was the last to leave less than a minute later.
In the end, every player that made the trip got a taste of action in the biggest game of their lives.
Marist will learn its NCAA Tournament matchup on Monday before heading to San Antonio to isolate before the games begin.
Edited by Mackenzie Meaney
Photo by Marist Athletics