The MAAC’s two most successful programs of the last two decades always seem to produce close, tense affairs.
Saturday evening at the McCann Center was no different as Marist women’s basketball lost a 58-52 decision to Quinnipiac in a game that could have crucial seeding implications come March.
“I thought we played well and took it right down to the wire,” Marist head coach Brian Giorgis said after the game. “It came down to an offensive rebound putback…I’m pleased with our effort and we’ve played everybody now but Rider, and even though we’re 4-5, we’ve proved we can play with anyone.”
Two days removed from a program-record 44 points against Mount St. Mary’s, Kiara Fisher appeared more like a mere mortal, finishing with just two points as she was undoubtedly a focal point of Tricia Fabbri’s scout coming into the night.
“They were just long,” Giorgis said of Quinnipiac’s defense. “Kiara can beat anybody but then help (defense) steps over and the help is 6-foot-3 and forcing her to give up the ball.”
The looks weren’t there for the Syracuse transfer, who shot 1-for-9 for the game. With one of the heavy hitters having an off-night, the Marist offense risked becoming even less balanced.
Zaria Shazer scored Marist’s first nine points of the night and finished with a career-high 29 points on 9-for-17 shooting and an 11-for-14 effort from the line. She outscored the rest of her team by six points.
“It’s nice that my team can look to me when there are mismatches and things like that,” Shazer said. “It’s helpful to know that if there is a mismatch, someone can take advantage, no matter who it is.”
It was no exaggeration to say she single-handedly kept her team in the game.
Shazer hit a jumper from close range to break a lengthy Red Foxes scoring drought and make it 49-43. On the next trip, Julianna Bonilla scored in transition to make it a four-point contest and forced a Quinnipiac timeout with 6:02 left in the game.
Marist continued its comeback quest with a three from Sam Bailey (just the team’s second of the game) that made it 51-48 with 4:36 remaining.
For the first 25 minutes of the game, the Red Foxes struggled on defense, but Giorgis’ team clamped down and found themselves trailing just 52-50 after Shazer hit two free throws with 2:48 left.
Shazer split a pair of foul shots to make it 53-51 with 46 seconds left but after holding their opponents without a field goal for four-and-a-half minutes, the Red Foxes couldn’t grab a Bobcats’ miss and Grace LaBarge scored the putback, and got fouled to boot.
It was the dagger. LaBarge completed the three-point play, making it 56-51 with 26 seconds left.
The Red Foxes (8-10, 4-5 in the MAAC) shot 33 percent from the field and just 2-for-12 from three-point range. Marist shot 14-of-20 from the foul line.
Kendall Krick was the team’s next-leading scorer with nine points.
The Bobcats did not have the services of All-MAAC first-teamer Mackenzie DeWees, who suffered an injury in the preseason and has yet to play in the campaign. In her absence, her backcourt partner Rose Caverly had a team-high 18 points.
Quinnipiac was clinical from the floor in the first half but had to grind it out on offense as the game came to a close. The Bobcats shot 40 percent from the floor and 7-for-18 from three.
The loss could cost the Red Foxes in Atlantic City. They now sit two games behind the Bobcats in the race for the 5-seed and the all-important first-round bye in the MAAC Tournament.
Marist started an ice-cold 3-for-16 from the floor and trailed 18-11 early in the second quarter after a basket from Rose Caso capped an 8-0 Bobcats run.
The Red Foxes found some life on offense, getting more scoring from Shazer and making three straight attempts to cut the deficit to 18-17 with 6:57 left in the first half. Marist regained the lead a few minutes later when Maeve Donnelly scored a put-back to make it 24-23 in favor of the home team.
The Bobcats had a response, running some nice offensive sets to get a few open threes, with Rose Caverly knocking down her second three of the half to re-extend Quinnipiac’s lead to 34-28 with 55 seconds left in the half.
Shazer reached 19 first-half points with a jumper on the next possession and Marist went into the locker room down 35-30.
Quinnipiac made 6-of-12 from the three-point line in the first half and the Red Foxes continued to struggle on the defensive end early in the third quarter. The Bobcats got three easy looks inside the arc to stretch their lead to 41-30 and force a Marist timeout just over two minutes into the second half.
“We had to just pick it up a little bit,” Shazer said. “We had to remind each that we were in the game and it was mostly just us not paying attention and having to play better.”
After Giorgis took time, the Red Foxes began to buckle down on the defensive end, holding the Bobcats scoreless for over four minutes and cutting the deficit to 41-39 after Shazer scored off a nice assist from Donnelly.
Quinnipiac finally took the lid off with a basket from Grace LaBarge and a three from Haywood on the next possession helped the Bobcats extend the lead back to 46-39 with 2:31 left. The Bobcats took a 48-41 lead into the fourth.
The Red Foxes will have a week off before returning to McCann to host Saint Peter’s on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m.
Edited by Ricardo Martinez
Photo from Marist Athletics