The Madness Begins: Marist Topples League-Leading Iona on the Road

College basketball is such a strange sport. 

Iona entered Thursday afternoon on a 16-game winning streak and Marist women’s basketball came to the Hynes Center losers of six out of seven games. Back in December, the Gaels won by 21 in Poughkeepsie.

It was only fitting, then, that the Red Foxes went the entire game without trailing, fighting off a late rally to best the league-leading Gaels 70-60 on the second day of March.

Having played from behind all afternoon long, Iona finally made its run to open the final quarter. The Gaels quickly turned a 60-51 deficit into a tie after a three from Natalia Otkhmezuri capped a 9-0 run and forced a Marist timeout with 6:02 left.

It was do or die for the Red Foxes, who retook the lead at 62-60 through an inside score from Morgan Tompkins.

Both offenses were tense as the clock wound down. Marist couldn’t capitalize on an extended Iona drought.

Zaria Shazer put an end to a two-and-a-half minute scoreless period for both teams, knocking down a pair of free throws to make it 64-60 with 2:41 remaining. The Gaels had their looks down the stretch but couldn’t break a scoreless drought that kept increasing with every empty possession.

Throughout the afternoon, Marist pulled down some 50-50 balls that it hadn’t been winning of late. The case and point came when Shazer wrestled a rebound from an Iona player and finished an easy layup to make it 66-60 with just 28 seconds remaining.

After Iona’s run to tie the game, the Red Foxes scored the final 10 points as the Gaels failed to score for the last 6:02 of the contest.

It was the Gaels’ first loss of 2023 with their last defeat coming to Fairfield on Dec. 19.

Shazer posted a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. She shot 7-for-18 from the floor but made 6-of-7 from the charity stripe.

Kiara Fisher started quickly, doing most of her damage in the first half. She had 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting with three of those makes coming from deep.

With the season winding down, Brian Giorgis made a few key lineup adjustments that proved to be a key factor in the surprise victory. Seniors Julianna Bonilla and Sam Bailey saw their roles reduced in favor of Tompkins and Catie Cunningham, who also started on Saturday.

Cunningham played a career-high 38 minutes and finished with 9 points and a team-high 13 rebounds.

Tompkins came off the bench to play starters’ minutes and had 13 crucial points.

On Thursday, at least, Fisher and Shazer weren’t alone.

Marist shot 40 from the field and 6-of-13 from three with four of those makes coming in the first 10 minutes of the game. The Red Foxes were also phenomenal from the free-throw line, making 14 of 15 attempts.

The win keeps Marist in the hunt for the six-seed and puts some distance between it and the teams chasing the 7-seed.

The Gaels already had the regular-season title clinched and were slow out of the gates against their in-state rival. Iona (22-6, 17-2 in the MAAC) shot 41 percent from the floor and 8-of-23 from deep.

Iona’s Ketsia Athias found success down low, finishing with 18 points and 9 rebounds but Marist was able to limit All-MAAC selection Juana Camilion to just 6 points on 2-of-13 shooting.

The Red Foxes won the rebounding battle 40-32 and pulled down 14 offensive rebounds, including some crucial ones down the stretch.

Marist got off to a scorching start thanks to Fisher. The point guard hit two early threes as the Red Foxes scored the first eight points of the game and led 12-2 three-and-a-half minutes in.

While Fisher was percolating early, Iona’s Kate Mager (the MAAC’s best three-point shooter) hit a trio of treys to stabilize the Gaels but Marist kept itself in front and a Catie Cunningham score saw the Red Foxes lead 26-18 after 10 minutes.

Marist only scored 24 first-half points in the first meeting between the teams in Poughkeepsie.

The Red Foxes made all four of their shots from outside the arc in the first quarter. Almost predictably, they slowed down in the second but managed to extend their lead (despite Shazer picking up her second foul) to 37-24 with 3:42 left in the first half after Morgan Tompkins hit from outside and converted a layup.

The Gaels worked the deficit back to single digits to trail 39-32 at the break.

Marist knew the Gaels wouldn’t relinquish their lengthy winning streak without a fight. The teams traded baskets for the first few minutes of the second half but it was the Red Foxes that made their move, with Shazer finishing a three-point play and Cunningham knocking down a triple to make it 52-41 with 3:45 left in the third.

Jumpers from Krick and Fisher propelled Marist to a 56-46 lead after the third quarter.

With some renewed energy, the Red Foxes will travel to Rider to conclude the regular season on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 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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