Cunningham’s Breakout and Fisher’s Playmaking Propel Marist to Win Against Army

The Erin Doughty era got off to a fast start on Thursday night as Marist women’s basketball defeated Army 76-68.

With Doughty coaching her first game at the helm, the Red Foxes used a unique formula to knock off the Black Knights. Star point guard Kiara Fisher played 28 minutes despite being limited by an injury; since her physical limitations and lack of practice time prevented her from achieving her typical scoring output, she instead went into full playmaker mode, dishing out 10 dimes while only accumulating one turnover.

Senior guard Kiara Fisher dribbles the ball up the court against Army. (Photo credit: Kira Crutcher)

“[Kiara Fisher] is the most unselfish player,” said senior forward Zaria Shazer. “She’s just so good at finding us. The passes are passes that typical point guards won’t be able to make all the time. She’s finding us and putting us in perfect positions to score.”

The other Red Fox starters were the chief beneficiaries of Fisher’s playmaking. Junior guard Catie Cunningham, who only averaged 2.3 points per game last season, broke out with a monster night, earning 12 rebounds, going 7-8 at the charity stripe and tallying 17 points. Sophomore guard Jackie Piddock provided much-needed spacing in going 4-6 from deep. Shazer was her typical standout self, pacing Marist with 21 points and delivering clutch play down the stretch after she led the Red Foxes in scoring a year ago.

“To have four kids in double digits, it’s what we need, where last year we didn’t have that very often,” said Doughty.

Cunningham’s breakout game is an encouraging sight for a team trying to fill the void left by outgoing guard Kendall Krick. Doughty found it especially rewarding to see Cunningham succeed after she only received limited playing time in previous seasons.

“Catie Cunningham is one of those kids you always root for. For two years, she’s done everything we’ve asked her,” said Doughty. 

Before tipoff, McCann Arena had all the markings of a season opener, with Marist President Kevin Weinman on hand for a pregame ceremony honoring military veterans. Once the game got underway, a raucous crowd witnessed a close affair that saw the Red Foxes stave off multiple comeback attempts.

Unsurprisingly, the Marist starting lineup featured their two Preseason All-MAAC First Teamers Fisher and Shazer, along with Piddock and Cunningham. Sophomore Morgan Lee started at the five with holdover graduate student center Maeve Donnelly still out; Lee hardly saw the floor during her freshman year at Georgetown but immediately announced her presence with a three-pointer in the first quarter.

Absent from the team’s rotations was Morgan Tompkins; the sophomore guard did not suit up, but remains on track as she recovers from offseason surgery.

Fisher demonstrated her playmaking chops on the very first possession, finding Piddock on the left side; Piddock swished her three-point shot. After a fruitless back-and-forth stretch, freshman forward Kya Smith got Army on the board with a layup near the eight-minute mark.

New starter Lee made a strong first impression moments later, drilling a three from the right wing after Shazer fed her the rock.

Just before the three-minute mark in the first quarter, Fisher drove in from the right side before kicking the ball back out to sophomore forward Ciara Croker, who had subbed in a few minutes prior. Wide open, Croker hit the long two, putting Marist up 13-10.

Army began to get Reese Ericson involved, as a possession featuring scintillating ball movement culminated in a corner three for the sophomore guard, tying it up at 13 with two minutes left in the first quarter.

The second quarter saw the Marist offense explode for 25 points; they needed every one of them as Ericson began to go on a heater. Lexie Tarul, a sophomore transfer guard from Fordham who sat out her freshman year, subbed in and swished an open three-point look on the wing to draw the score even at 18. 

Midway through the second quarter, Marist had outshot Army from the field by over 20% (57% to 36%), yet only led by three. A big reason for Army remaining in the game was the performance of sophomore guard Reese Ericson, who went 6-7 from deep and finished with 24 points.

“We had watched her last year, and she’s a really special player,” said Doughty. “We knew we had to step up on those ball screens, we tried to trap her a little bit and get the ball out of her hands.”

Despite Ericson’s excellence, Marist led 40-30 at halftime. With a ten-point cushion, the Red Foxes trotted out their starters to open the third quarter. 

Shazer started the second-half scoring for Marist with a layup, but a couple of buckets including an Ericson triple cut the lead to 42-35. 

Fisher took it upon herself to respond, going coast to coast for a fast break layup with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Freshman Army guard forward Soleil Montrose immediately went down and got a three of her own, but Marist once again responded, a Piddock pull-up jumper and two free throws from Shazer put the Red Foxes up 50-42.

Halfway through the quarter, Ericson put her team on her back, launching yet another successful three after receiving a wide-open look at the top of the key; the bucket bringing Army within four points.

Following a scoring lull, the Red Foxes finally put more points on the board with Shazer’s third assist of the night setting Cunningham up for a driving layup. Cunningham drew a foul on the play, and drained the free throw to complete the three-point play. At the end of three quarters, Marist led 55-50.

To open the fourth, Fisher scored again in transition on a fast break to push the lead to seven. A couple of Smith free throws made it a four-point game, and an ensuing sloppy offensive possession prompted Doughty to call a timeout.

Army drew within one after the timeout, with Hardy making one of two free throws and then stealing the ball on the subsequent possession and feeding it inside to freshman guard/forward Fiona Hastick, who finished with the layup. Fisher made one of two free throws on the next possession to make it 58-56 in favor of Marist. The teams then traded empty possessions, but Fisher dropped a dime to Shazer, who drove in for the layup and drew the foul. The play sent McCann into a frenzy and reestablished a five-point margin with six minutes remaining.

McCann exploded again when Fisher cascaded down the court and found Piddock on the left side, where she swished her fourth three-pointer, putting Marist up by eight with half a quarter remaining.

Army remained undeterred, reeling off two straight buckets to come back within four. The Red Fox offense suddenly dried up, and a Hardy layup with just over two minutes remaining narrowed the Marist lead to two, 64-62.

With the game on the line, Shazer came up big on two straight possessions, making a jumper and then drawing a foul to put Marist up 68-62 with a minute left. After back-and-forth fouling, Marist salted the game away and came out on top 76-68.

Cunningham’s breakout performance made all the difference, with her efficiency from the line and her adept rebounding proving crucial in a game won by the margins. 

Junior guard Catie Cunningham shoots a free throw against Army. (Photo Credit: Jaylen Rizzo)

“It definitely boosted [my confidence], it was always there, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” said Cunningham. 

The Red Foxes will look to keep rolling on Saturday at the Palestra when they travel to the University of Pennsylvania for a noon game.

Edited by Ben Leeds

Graphic by Jaylen Rizzo; photo from Marist Athletics

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