The Marist women's basketball team doesn't necessarily need its shots to fall. It not only survived a below-average 37.3 percent shooting performance from the field in its MAAC tournament semifinal-round contest against Niagara on Saturday afternoon, it won in lopsided fashion.
When the Red Foxes' offense isn't quite there, their defense is. It is almost always there and it certainly was in its 61-36 victory over Niagara that sends Marist to Monday's noon championship game at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.
Score just 24 first-half points? No problem ... just hold Niagara to 12 over the game's first 20 minutes while the Purple Eagles shot just 22.7 percent (5-of-22) from the floor. It was the third time this season that Marist has held an opponent to less than 15 points in the first half of a game.
Shut down an opponent's best two players? No problem ... Niagara's 6-2 junior center Lauren Gatto entered Saturday's game averaging 14.3 points per game, but was held to just five (2-of-6 shooting) by Marist. The Purple Eagles' junior guard Meghan McGuinness came in averaging 10.0 ppg, but was held scoreless (0-for-2) by Marist.
Offensively, Marist only had two double-figure scorers, forward Elizabeth Beynnon (11 points on 4-of-12 shooting) and guard Casey Dulin (10 points on 3-of-4 shooting, but nine players got into the scoring colun for the winners and only one player (guard Leanne Ockenden) played more than 30 minutes against Niagara.
"Our defense was pretty special," said Marist head coach Brian Giorgis, the architect of the program that, in addition to eight NCAA tournament appearances in the last nine years has directed the program to 10 straight regular-season conference crowns. "Today we just played great, solid defense.
"We knew what we had to do against Gatto, and we held her to five points. We shut out their second-leading scorer (McGuinness). It was a great defensive effort. I really like the way our team is playing defense.
"And, now, we get another Iona-Marist clash. It's their offense against our defense. We won both times this year. There are certain things we do against them that other teams don't, but I won't share that with you (the media). They (the Gaels) are playing their best basketball right now. We know we'll have our hands full.."
Giorgis and Bozzella have a friendly a relationship as any two MAAC coaches, and can often be seen sitting side-by-side courtside while scouting potential opponents during the MAAC tournament.
But, that affinity ends when their teams play, and Bozzella has never beaten a Giorgis-coached Marist team, a streak that is now at 29 straight games including tournament meetings.
Iona, though, is playing as well as it has all year, coming into the championship contest on a nine-game winning streak and averaging 76.1 points per contest during that stretch.
But the last loss prior to that run came on its own court against Marist, a 63-40 victory by the Red Foxes that ws Iona's second-lowest offensive production of the season. Only Duke, ranked No. 3 nationally when it played Iona in mid-November, has held the Gaels to fewer points in a game (31).
"And, they know we held them to 40," said Giorgis. "They're talented and we'll have our hands full. but we won't back down and we'll accept the challenge. We have a lot of experience at this level of play and at this stage ... and, it helps."