Saturday, March 3, 2012

Marist Women Not Dominant, but Still Win in OT

"Just another day at the office," quipped Marist women's coach Brian Giorgis, after his team defeated Niagara, 68-54, in overtime of a semifinal-round MAAC tournament contest.

"Well, not really," Giorgis quickly added.

But, yes really considering the Red Foxes found a win to win as they have all season, pushing their overall record to 24-7, their record agaisnt conference opponents to 19-1 this season and 43-1 since the end of the 2009-10 season.

And, yes, another day at the office ... another of life's certainties, if you will ... for the program that plays Monday at noon against Fairfield as it seeks its seventh consecutive tournament title and resultant trip to the NCAA tournament.

Another day at the office in another sense, too.

By now, Giorgis surely expects nothing different than a highly competitive game against a a resurgent Niagara team.

After all, Marist had to survive two overtimes just 13 days earlier against the Purple Eagles when Niagara twice had possessions ... at the end of regulation and, again, at the end of the first overtime ... on which a made shot would have beaten the Red Foxes.

And, so it was here again Saturday in the MAAC tournament as Marist struggled to convert shots against an effective Niagara defense and faced a 13-point, 40-27, deficit with under 12 minutes remaining.

And, then, as if it punched in on the office clock, the Red Foxes went to work, working their motion offense to near-perfection to outscore the Purple Eagles 25-12 down the stretch of regulation.

Senior guard Corielle Yarde made two clutch three-pointers in the stretch, prompting Giorgis to note, afterwards, that play like that is what earned Yarde as the conference's Player of the Year.

Still, Marist had to survive a missed Niagara foul shot when Niagara's Lauren Gatto (19 points, 10 rebounds) made just one of two that tied things up with seven seconds remaining.

In the overtime Niagara scored first and, then, didn't get another point.

Yarde answered with another three pointer (she finished with 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-6 from three-point range). Teammate Kelsey Beynnon finished with 23 points (the second time she went over 20 points this season) and 16 rebounds.

Niagara, which finishes 13-19 overall and with nine conference victories a year after an 0-18 MAAC slate a year ago, had an uncharacteristically tough time from beyond the bonus stripe making just 2-of-16 long-range shots. The Purple Eagles entered the contest as the 13th-best three-point shooting team nationally.

"We struggled shooting all night for some reason, and that had not been the case at all for the last four weeks," said Niagara coach Kendra Faustin. "We got good inside production from Gatto early, and then they started swarming her in toe post and we struggled to score.

"But I'm proud of these guys. After what we went through last year it was remarkable. This group got better every day. They came to practice (hard) every day. It was a fun group to coach and that's why I'm a little emotional right now. I really enjoyed being around them all year."

And, Giorgis knew, afterwards, that the contest truly wasn't just another day at the office.

"We knew this wouldn't be easy, but the girls just refused to lose," said the Marist coach. "A key was that we held them on the defense end. Even though we weren't making some shots early we were able to hold them.

"This ranks up there at the top (of satisfying victories). For much of the game it didn't seem like it was our day. After we came back (to tie it at 43-43 with 4:45 left) and, then, they banked in a three (by Niagara's Kayla Stroman), it didn't seem like it was our day. But we just refused to lose."

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