After a game filled with lows, Marist women’s basketball responded with a night of season-highs in a 72-65 victory over Niagara on Saturday night at the McCann Center.
The Red Foxes entered the night with a 4-10 record and sitting in an even more unfamiliar position at eighth place in the conference. The win vaulted them into a jumble of teams in the middle of the conference standings in a league with plenty of parity.
“As someone said, it was like old Marist basketball,” Marist head coach Brian Giorgis said. “We shared the ball and played storming defense. The nice thing is that we got contributions from a lot of people, we subbed a lot, and we stayed fresh.”
The Red Foxes were coming off a loss at Iona where they scored 41 points and shot a season-low 24 percent from the field, all while watching a lead slip away. It was an extreme variation of a familiar theme for Marist, who entered the game with the worst scoring offense in the MAAC.
The Purple Eagles were on the other end of the spectrum, with one-time Marist assistant Jada Pierce’s squad possessing the league’s most potent offense. Niagara tried to increase the tempo by pushing the ball up the floor and throwing a press at the Red Foxes whenever they could.
It was the opposite of the meat grinder that the Red Foxes endured on Thursday, which was just what Marist needed to restore some confidence. Even if it was against the team with the worst defense in the MAAC.
The Red Foxes shot 30-for-59 (51 percent) from the floor and shattered the previous season-high of 15 assists with 23 helpers. Marist assisted on 77 percent of its made baskets, another season-high, making 23 corresponding turnovers much more palatable.
“Niagara forces teams into 30 or 35 turnovers per game,” Giorgis said. “I look at 23 (turnovers) with 12 going into the fourth quarter and see the 23 assists to go with it, and we’re happy with that.”
The matchup that drew the most attention was Kiara Fisher against Niagara’s Angel Parker at point guard. Fisher, the Syracuse transfer, has ACC-level talent and quickness, but Parker is one of the few MAAC guards that can match her in both departments.
Parker finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, and five assists while Fisher threw up eights in the points, assists, and turnover categories. Parker may have won the battle, but Fisher’s team won the war.
It was Fisher’s high school teammate, Zaria Shazer, who found success early and often, running the floor and scoring some easy baskets on her way to eclipsing the career-high she set a week ago against Monmouth. She finished with 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting.
Kendall Krick, whose hard work so often goes unnoticed on the stat sheet, was the next highest-scoring Marist player, setting a new career-high of her own with 14.
“Our focus has to be on sharing the ball,” Krick said. “We didn’t do that against Iona, but we did a much better job of doing that tonight. It’s a long season with plenty of games left, and we have to keep thinking about what we can do better.”
All the more impressive is that the Red Foxes were able to win with only three made three-pointers from 14 attempts. The inside-focused approach paid dividends with a new season-high 72 points.
After Niagara’s Aaliyah Parker tied the game at 19 with a layup early in the second quarter, Marist responded with an 18-3 run to take control before the half. A layup from Julianna Bonilla made it 27-19 with 6:07 left in the first half, and a three from Anabel Ellison extended the lead to 35-22 with two minutes remaining. The Red Foxes had much more success playing at a higher tempo and took a 39-26 lead to the locker room.
The ball continued to move like it was on a string as the second half began. From the inbounds near midcourt, Fisher got the ball and fired to Krick, who converted a layup just three seconds into the third quarter. A jumper from Fisher stretched Marist’s lead to 49-32 with 5:39 left in the third, and Shazer was able to come up with a score after Niagara cut it to 49-38.
A layup from Siobhan Boylan meant the Red Foxes led 60-43 entering the final period.
Entering the media timeout, it looked like Niagara had cut Marist’s lead to 64-56, but an official review took away a Purple Eagles’ basket because of a shot-clock violation. Catie Cunningham scored out of the timeout for an effective four-point swing and a 66-54 lead with 4:40 left.
The Red Foxes were able to weather the storm from there and keep a dangerous Niagara squad at arm’s length for the rest of the game.
It will be another short turnaround for Marist, as it faces Canisius on Monday in a game that was rescheduled from earlier in the season. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the McCann Center.
Edited by Connor Kurpat
Image by Marist Athletics