ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Six days ago, the Quinnipiac Bobcats came into McCann Arena and beat Marist on Senior Night, securing a sweep of the season series. The Red Foxes came into Thursday’s contest with a chip on their shoulders, and it certainly showed. Marist played their best 40 minutes of basketball on the biggest stage, beating Quinnipiac 75-59 to secure their place in the MAAC Tournament semifinals.
“We have had a sense of urgency in preparation like I haven’t seen all year these last couple days. We’ve always had the will to prepare all season, even through the losses. That is a testament to the character of our guys and they’re great teammates for each other,” Marist head coach John Dunne said.
The opening exchanges of the contest made it clear that Quinnipiac was not going to let Patrick Gardner beat them. Anytime he got the ball near the paint, the Bobcats sent a second defender to force him to give it up.
Noah Harris and Isaiah Brickner were given the space to hit open looks, and they executed. The two guards scored Marist’s first seven points, helping them jump out to an early five-point lead.
Gardner would open his account for the game with a putback layup, giving Marist a 9-4 lead at the 13:34 mark. As the half went on, a breakout supporting cast would find their scoring touch for the Red Foxes.
Javon Cooley and Tyler Saint-Furcy would go on a run scoring 11 of Marist’s 17 points, giving them a much-needed lift. With 4:49 left in the first half, the Red Foxes led 28-21.
Gardner did not get off to a fast start, more or less because of the way he was guarded, but he was critical in the final moments of the first half. With just under a minute until the break, the big hit a 3-pointer with Quinnipiac guard Matt Balanc draped all over him.
Brickner nailed back-to-back free throws to end the half, giving Marist a 35-27 going into halftime. Brickner, Gardner and Saint-Furcy accounted for 27 of their points, showcasing a balanced scoring attack that would be tough to contain going forward.
Quinnipiac shot 33.8 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from the arc in the first. Balanc was up to 10 points, though it took nine shots to get there. Marist was contesting every look the Bobcats had, collecting four blocks in the opening 20 minutes, two of which came from Gardner.
The question was, would the Bobcats ever punch back in the second half?
Brickner gave them no chance to do that, hitting back-to-back threes once more, putting Marist up 47-32, five and a half minutes into the second. The young point guard was in the midst of a breakout performance, giving his team whatever they needed in the moment.
In parts of the season, Brickner showed most of his value as a playmaker. As he has gained more experience, the product from San Diego, California has become more comfortable as a scorer.
“They were going under a lot of the screens, so I just took my time and knocked shots down,” Brickner said.
With 14:25 remaining, Quinnipiac was forced to speed their game up. That played right into the hands of the Red Foxes, who were calm, cool and collected as they looked to generate good looks.
The lead would grow to 20 after another made 3-point attempt from Gardner, putting Marist up 59-39 a little less than midway through the second half. Trace Salton would get in on the fun a few minutes later, scoring two straight baskets to put the Red Foxes ahead by 22.
At that point, the outcome of the game was all but decided. The Bobcats did everything in their power to make Marist create their own problems, but the Red Foxes stayed in control. Coach Dunne was able to pull his starters in the final minutes, giving the crowd a chance to celebrate with them.
Marist’s win over Quinnipiac was their best performance from start to finish. The Red Foxes shot 47.3 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three, but what was even more impressive was what they did on the other end of the floor.
Quinnipiac was held to 33.8 percent shooting from the field 25.9 shooting from three. Balanc, Luis Kortright and Tyrese Williams, three players highlighted in my game preview, shot a combined 8-for-31 from the field. Marist took away what the Bobcats excelled at, and Quinnipiac had no way of adjusting.
“We didn’t know how to compete in November, we didn’t know how to compete in December. I think it took a couple of early beatings for us to understand how hard we need to play. But we stuck with it and that is a testament to the guys,” coach Dunne said.
Gardner excelled with 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 shooting from 3-point arc. The graduate student also had nine rebounds and a staggering five blocks. Brickner was terrific as well, adding a career-high 21 points and five threes. The guard contributed with six rebounds and six assists as well.
Marist is going to the MAAC Tournament Semifinals as an 11-seed, the second to do so in MAAC tournament history. The first was Quinnipiac last season, winning their first two games in Atlantic City. The Red Foxes will look to continue their unimaginable run tomorrow night, facing off against the 10-seeded Saint Peter’s Peacocks. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
Edited By Dan Aulbach
Photo from Marist Athletics