Saturday, March 23, 2013

Marist Rallies In Second Half, Falls Short to Spartans

The advantage of television is that it takes a viewer places even those with the highest-priced game tickets can't access.

Prior to the Marist women's NCAA tournament contest with Michigan State Saturday afternoon, a 55-47 Spartans' victory, the cameras were inside the Red Foxes' locker room for coach Brian Giorgis' last-minute pregame words for his team.

Giorgis stressed a few things his team always does as a program, described his team as a flock of geese that always flies in a "V" formation, and that V stands for victory. With that, he raised his hand, his players put their hands together around Giorgis' and, then, went out to the court.

There was no yelling, no histrionics, no win-one-for-the-Gipper emotions.

Just a calm, business-like approach.

It was like Giorgis and most of his players had been here before, and they have. The program has been in similar locker rooms prior to first-round NCAA games, now, nine times in the past 10 seasons.

In fact, they've been farther than just the NCAA first round before, too.  The program got an NCAA tournament victory in each of the last two years, another one in 2008 and went all the way to the round of 16 in 2007.

Marist knows how this stuff is done, it knows how to win tournament games.

Except it seemed to have forgottten after taking a 14-12 lead with 8:03 remaining in the first half. For the remainder of the time before the intermission the Red Foxes went 1-for-9 from the field and committed three turnovers over a total of 12 possessions.

Afterwards, Giorgis admitted he yelled to his team: "Nobody wants to shoot!"

"That was the thing that was so frustrating at the time," the Marist coach told reporters afterwards. "It was like, `Guys, you're playing scared,' ... I didn't know what team was there playing in the first half."

The Spartans' used that stretch of un-Marist like play to go on a 13-2 run to finish out the half with a 25-16 lead that got extended to 31-19 early in the second half.

And, then, Marist started playing like Marist again, running its motion offense to near-perfection that produced a 14-0 run and a 33-31 lead on Casey Dulin's three-pointer with 13:45 left.

When Dulin connected on another trey with 10:45 remaining the score was tied at 38.

Michigan State, though, scored on its next five possessions to grab a 49-42 advantage with 7:10 remaining and Marist never got closer again.

The winners' got much of their late first-half production from an unexpected source, reserve forward Annalise Pickrel, who scored 11 straight points late in the half. She entered the contest averaging nine points per game.

"All of a sudden," Giorgis said afterwards, "Pickrel comes up."

Pckrel finished with 14 points, including her fouth three-pointer of the contest to break the 38-38 tie midway through the second half.

The teams were similar in that both stressed defense and both limited their own turnovers.

Said Giorgis: "We played a better version of ourselves."

Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said she wasn't surprised by how well Marist played.

"Probably everybody in the field, when you see your name come up there and you see Marist come up  there, you know you maybe drew the unlucky number because they are a very, very good team," Marchant told reporters, afterwards. "We also know their history.

Marist nearly made even more history Saturday. And, it might have had it not lost its two post players, 6-foot-3 Vanderbilt transfer Tori Jarosz and 6-5 freshman Delaney Hollenbeck, two games into the season with season-ending injuries.

It left the playing group with one player taller than 6-0, and it appeared that, finally, Marist would be vulnerable after a lengthy domination of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Instead, the Red Foxes came into the NCAA's riding a 21-game winning streak (Saturday's setback was its first in the 2013 calendar year) and won its 10th consecutive regular-season conference title.

Marist graduates 6-2 forward Elizabeth Beynnon, and reserves 6-1 Kristina Danella and 5-4 guard Kristine Best. But everyone else returns, there is a strong freshman class ready to join the program and both Jarosz and Hollenbeck are expected to be at full strength next season.

It almost assuredly means Marist's domination of the MAAC will not only continue but that the Red Foxes will have the type height better suited to competing in, and winning, NCAA tournament games next season.

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