Saturday, March 19, 2011

Marist Women Advance; Peacock Men Fall

After the first round of NCAA tournament play there is one conference team still alive.

And, to no one's surprise, it's the Marist women's basketball team.

The Red Foxes, a No. 10 seed in its 16-team bracket, handled 7th-seeded Iowa State with relative ease Saturday morning and into the early afternoon with a 74-64 victory over the Cyclones.

The game was close early with Iowa State holding a 16-15 lead at one point before Marist went on a 25-4 run to take a 40-20 lead late in the first half.

The Cyclones battled back to within six points late in the game, but could come no closer.

The victory was a nation's best 27 consecutive victory for Marist.

The Red Foxes have the unenviable task of facing No. 2-seeded Duke in the Blue Devils' home Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., it the next round on Monday night.

Kate Oliver, a 6-foot-4 sophomore center, led scorers for Marist with 16 points, but all five Marist starters scored in double figures and the team recorded assists on 21 of its 24 field goals made in the game, the perfect indication of the winners' teamwork.

In the other NCAA tournament game involving a conference team, Saint Peter's failed to produce much of an offense against a physical Purdue team as the Boilermakers, a No. 3 seed in a 16-team bracket, earned a 65-43 victory in a game played Friday night in Chicago.

Saint Peter's ran into an opponent that played the same style of bruising defense, only Purdue does so with bigger, faster and stronger athletes.

The Peacocks were making the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1995.

"We just went too fast,'' St. Peter's guard Nick Leon was quoted as saying afterwards. "They sped us up, and we didn't grab the momentum that we wanted to grab at the beginning of the game. That kept us from playing different basketball, the basketball that St. Peter's plays.

"We played defense, and we played hard, but they made some tough shots, and we missed shots. That's what happens sometimes. You don't plan to miss shots. We didn't give up. We played to the end.''

St. Peter's coach John Dunne pointed to Purdue's team defensive concept and Johnson's interior presence at the defensive end as the core of the Peacocks' offensive woes. They made only 5-of-21 shots from 3-point range and got to the free throw line only six times, making four.
"Their ball pressure is so good,'' Dunne said. "When you get by it and have a guy like Johnson waiting for you, it makes you a little more antsy. You end up thinking about him instead of just playing. We just didn't make disciplined plays.''


- Is it any surprise that Marist won a tournament game, and in impressive fashion, against a higher-rated team?

The victory was Marist's fourth in the national tournament, all coming since the Red Foxes won twice in the 2006-07 tournament. In the MAAC's 30-year history only one other women's team from the league, the 1988-89 La Salle team, has ever won an NCAA tournament game.

- By now Brian Giorgis' ability to coach isn't a secret in conference circles, but the Marist coach's reputation has to be stretching to national boundaries.

It's one thing to get to the NCAA tournament in seven of the past eight season, but quite another to win games there against teams from higher-level conferences. Marist's current team has few, if any, players recruited by higher-level programs.

And when the program wins four tournament games over a five-year span with a changing cast of players ... well, the one constant is the head coach.

- Even though the Saint Peter's men suffered a lopsided setback, its first trip to the national tournament in 16 years not only created a renewed sense of school spirit a the Jersey City, N.J., college but spoke volumes about a group of players as gritty as their community and a head coach (John Dunne) who found ways to succeed where others have failed.

And, Dunne has done it with class. Here's my favorite example.

After his team won the MAAC Tournament in Bridgeport, Conn., Dunne was asked how he dealt with the handicaps of lesser facilities located in the heart of an urban environment and if, indeed, he had one of the toughest jobs in college basketball.

"I don't buy into that `toughest job' thing," said Dunne. "At the end of the day sometimes you ... it's the people within the building, not the building that make the difference. I care about these guys. I'd go to war for these guys. We might have our differences but we stick together. These guys have always persevered and it just comes down to people. You don't have to have the nicest house on the block. I think our guys like Saint Peter's. I think we have great people."

Great people, and a great head coach. And, the likelihood is that some larger school looking for a new basketball coach has already noticed.


EdB said...

Steve, I enjoyed your writing and coverage all season long. You made it enjoyable to follow the MAAC. Thanks for a great year.

(and now, let's root for Marist's women to knock off Duke!)

Steve Amedio said...

EdB -- Thanks for your kind words. It's easy to write good things about the MAAC, a league that does things the right way and a league inhabited by good people.
I'm with you ... would love to see the Marist women knock off Duke.
Let's go Red Foxes!