Marist Comes Through in Clutch to Beat Niagara in Conference Opener

While much of Buffalo was busy battening down the hatches for another big snowstorm and an important Bills game, Marist women’s basketball was able to escape a chaotic turnover-filled game at Niagara with a 63-55 victory in the MAAC opener.

With the snow already starting to fly outside the Gallagher Center in Niagara Falls, the Red Foxes and Purple Eagles combined for 62 turnovers, or, more precisely, one-and-a-half turnovers per minute. 

Former Marist assistant Jada Pierce’s squad entered the game forcing a whopping 28 turnovers per contest but surrendering a league-high 70 points per game. Facing a pressing, high-tempo team, ball handling was going to be at a premium for the Red Foxes.

Marist had tremendous difficulty holding on to the ball, giving it away a mind-boggling 34 times (Niagara had 28). While possession of the ball changed rapidly, the Red Foxes, with the help of some timely scoring, were able to hold steady down the stretch.

Holding on to a tenuous 52-50 lead and in the midst of a four-and-a-half-minute scoring drought, Julianna Bonilla hit her fourth three-pointer of the day to extend it to 55-50 with four minutes left.

On the next trip, Bonilla struck again, finishing a three-point play to make it 58-51.

Given the added importance of conference play, Bonilla had what was probably the best game of her four-year Marist career. She finished with 15 points and made 4-of-6 shots from three-point range. 

The Red Foxes did a good enough job of sustaining Niagara’s pressure down the stretch and the Purple Eagles were unable to effectively cut into the deficit as the clock ticked down. Zaria Shazer tossed in a circus shot to put Marist up 60-53 with 45 seconds left and provide all the breathing room that was needed.

Despite battling first-half foul trouble, Shazer managed a game-high 16 points and added seven rebounds.

Marist shot the ball quite well, going 52 percent from the floor and 8-for-17 (47 percent) from three-point range. The Red Foxes also took care of business from the foul line, making 13-of-16 from the charity stripe.

Niagara put up 60 shots compared to Marist’s 40 by winning both the turnover margin and rebound battle. But the Purple Eagles weren’t able to make that discrepancy count as they could only shoot 33 percent from the floor and just 2-for-15 from three.

Marist struggled to take care of the ball from the tip, turning it over seven times in the first seven minutes. But the Red Foxes did manage to keep the margin fairly even, forcing their share of giveaways.

A transition layup at the buzzer from Kendall Krick set up by a nice pass from Julianna Bonilla gave the Red Foxes a 20-18 after ten minutes of play.

When Marist could get through a possession without a turnover, the results were usually positive. Kiara Fisher found Krick for a three to stop a Niagara run and tie the game at 23, and Krick repaid the favor a few possessions later as Fisher drained a triple to make it 26-23.

The problem was that the Red Foxes were only getting a shot off on about half of their offensive trips. The offense slowed late in the first half, and the Purple Eagles were able to tie the game at 30 heading into halftime.

Marist’s primary ball-handlers, Fisher and Jackie Piddock, saw the floor together for a good chunk of the first half but combined for 10 of the Red Foxes’ 18 giveaways in the opening 20 minutes of play.

Niagara scored the first four points of the second half to take a 34-30 lead, but Marist had the response with an 8-0 run with scoring from Krick and Zaria Shazer, who had to sit for most of the second quarter with two fouls.

Krick finished the day with 15 points on an efficient 5-for-7 shooting effort and swiped six steals on the defensive end.

The Red Foxes had chances to extend the run, but turnovers, whether they were bad passes or travels, once again got in the way as Niagara re-took the lead on a layup from Saige Glover that made it 42-41 with 2:15 left in the third.

Once again, Marist cleaned up its act long enough to respond. A three-point play from Piddock and a corner triple from Bonilla helped send the Red Foxes to the final quarter with a 49-44 advantage.

With a 1-0 conference record, Marist wraps up its trip to Buffalo with a matchup against Canisius on Monday at 1 p.m.

Edited by Ricardo Martinez

Photo from Marist Athletics

Author: Jonathan Kinane

I'm a senior from Syracuse, NY, studying sports communication and journalism. I consider myself a die-hard Syracuse University sports fan, but I also follow the Knicks, Giants, and Yankees in the professional ranks. Sports and writing have long been my passions and I am excited for another year with Center Field.

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