DUBLIN – It turned out that going to a foreign country might have been just what Marist women’s basketball needed to get its season on the right track.
While much of Poughkeepsie was just waking up, the Red Foxes earned their first win of the season with a 70-57 triumph over Eastern Kentucky at National Basketball Arena in Dublin on Friday.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Marist head coach Brian Giorgis said. “I think we did a really good job defensively against a team that came in averaging 80 points per game. To hold them to 57…really helped us a lot today.”
The Red Foxes, who tipped off around 7:30 in the morning eastern standard time, came into the game averaging just 48 points per contest, a little bit worse than last season’s anemic offense. While it was another slow start, the Red Foxes had almost 60 points on the board by the end of the third quarter.
Coming out of the halftime break, Marist played its best period of the season to turn a 31-30 deficit into a 58-47 advantage. The Red Foxes made all four threes they attempted and capitalized on 10 Colonels turnovers for their highest-scoring quarter (28 points) in their first four games.
“For one, Kiara Fisher went off in that period,” Giorgis. “We were able to create offense from our defense and get out in transition where our offense does its best.”
Of course, after the explosion in the third, it was time for Marist to sweat it out in the fourth. After Kendall Krick scored to make it 60-47 with 9:23 left, the Red Foxes did not find any points until a Zaria Shazer layup made it 62-53 with 3:17 remaining.
“When you have dry spells, you have to be able to have defense be your constant,” Giorgis said. “Defenses shouldn’t have dry spells, and for the most part we didn’t and kept the lead.”
The Colonels had more than a few chances to make things interesting, but more turnovers (they finished with 28) cost them a shot at putting real pressure on a Marist team that had yet to win this season.
Antwainette Walker, Eastern Kentucky’s top threat coming into Friday, did end up with her fourth double-double in as many attempts, with 19 points and 12 rebounds. The Red Foxes held her to 11 attempts from the floor and forced her into seven giveaways, limiting her ability to make an impact.
The Red Foxes got contributions from all the usual suspects, with Shazer’s 22 points, eight boards, and 6-for-6 day from the free-throw line pacing her team in its first win since Feb. 21.
“I think we definitely deserved to win today,” Shazer said. “We faced some tough teams early and we just kept working at it and broke through that barrier. We expect a lot more wins.”
Kiara Fisher added 17 (to go with six assists), thanks, in part to a 7-for-8 output at the charity stripe and Kendall Krick was the third player in double figures with 12.
Marist got good minutes from its role players, with nine Red Foxes seeing more than nine minutes of action. The Red Foxes were also much more effective from the free-throw line, going 14-for-16.
The Red Foxes, as you might expect, shot the ball better, going 41 percent from the floor and 8-for-19 from three. They turned all those Eastern Kentucky giveaways into 34 points and played a somewhat cleaner game finishing with 21 turnovers but dishing 19 assists.
Despite being an entire ocean away from campus, the atmosphere at the arena felt a lot more like the McCann Center than you might expect. The Marist band and cheer and dance teams each made trip, along with some family of team members, and some dignitaries like president Kevin Weinman and vice president of student affairs Deb DiCaprio.
The Red Foxes began to cut into an early deficit as the first half dwindled down. Shazer established herself down low and scored repeatedly inside to help bring it to 26-23 with three minutes left and freshman Jackie Piddock connected from range to tie the game on the next possession.
Marist led briefly, but a three from Danielle Rainey sent the Colonels into the locker room with a narrow 31-30 lead.
Fisher promptly put the Red Foxes back on top with a three on Marist’s first possession of the second half and it quickly grew to a 9-0 run and a 39-31 lead in less than two minutes with easy scores from Shazer and Maeve Donnelly.
The Colonels quickly cut it back to 39-37 with two much-needed triples from Kalissa Lacy, but it was the Red Foxes’ turn to respond, scoring six in a row thanks to a few self-inflicted turnovers from Eastern Kentucky.
Marist, between scoring 28 points and forcing 10 turnovers, played its best 10 minutes of the season. Late threes from Fisher and Bonilla sent the Red Foxes to the final stanza up 58-47 and feeling good.
The Red Foxes will seek two wins in a row as they take North Florida at 8:30 a.m. (1:30 p.m. local) on Saturday.
Edited by Andrew Hard
Photo from Andrew Hard