Monday, March 10, 2014

Marist Women Tested, Rally for MAAC Women's Title

Deja vu all over again, right?

Another MAAC women's tournament championship, another trip to the NCAA tournament. For the ninth straight season.

Ho hum, right?

Just another day at the office. Yet another version of "Groundhog Day," the same thing over and over and over.

Only this time it wasn't.

This time the Red Foxes not only had to battle an opponent that had four starters back from an NCAA team a year ago, but were looking at a 17-point deficit at the 4:50 mark of the first half.

Maybe this would be the year someone other than Marist would represent the MAAC in the NCAA tournament.

Then again ... no.

Marist restored its brand of order on the MAAC tournament, relying on no small part the experience born from doing nothing other than winning this event over many years, by knocking off Quinnipiac, 70-66 before a crowd of 957 spectators at the MassMutual Center.

The meeting was the first tournament championship game match of NCAA tournament teams from the previous season. The Bobcats got there last year as a member of the Northeast Conference before joining the MAAC.

Marist coach Brian Giorgis remembered an even closer call that came in the 2007 event when that year's opponent, Iona, missed a potential game-winning layup at the buzzer in regulation that allowed his team to go on and win in overtime.

But his team never faced a 17-point deficit in its now nine-year run of consecutive championships (and, 10 of the last 11). He never remembers any opponent making a 25-2 run against his team like the Bobcats did on Monday, turning a 16-10 Marist advantage into a 35-18 edge for Quinnipiac.

"Giorgis just told us we needed to get the lead down to about 10 by halftime," said Marist's senior point guard Casey Dulin.

Instead, they got to within 11 at the intermission, by holding the Bobcats without a point over the final 4:50 of the half.

"Our defense stopped worrying about the scouting report and started swarming," said Giorgis. "We got them back on their heels.

"At halftime there was no rah-rah talk. We just talked about what we needed to do in the second half, and that was to start taking it to the basket."

To do that the Red Foxes resorted to a drill they run in practice that Giorgis calls "five out," positioning all five players on the perimeter and spread nearly from sideline to sideline.

It opened up driving lanes that the winners, now 27-6 overall, exploited to tet two and-ones and another bucket on their first three possessions to immediately cut their disadvantage to a more-manageable five points.

And, then, it got worse for Quinnipiac when its stellar junior point guard Gillian Abshire picked up her fourth foul with 16:09 remaining and sat out the next 11 minutes.

"That was a huge turning point for them because Abshire is the glue to their offense," admitted Giorgis.

With Abshire out, Marist did enough to take its first lead of the second half, 59-58, on Tori Jarosz's breakaway bucket. Quinnipiac tied it on its next possession, but never led again down the stretch.

"We prepared for the second half off of her (Abshire) running the point," said Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabri. "When we lost he, it put us behind the eight-ball."

Quinnipiac was still within a point, 67-66, after forward Brittany McQuain scored on a put-back with 1:07 left, but the Marist defense forced a shot clock violation, Quinnipiac fouled tournament MVP Sydney Coffey and she made both free throws.

The Bobcats' chance to tie came up short when Abshire misfired on a three-poit try with nine seconds left.

"For much of the game we played really really well," said Fabri. "And, now, it obviously stings. And, it should."

For Marist, i was the typically satisfying victory.

Well, maybe no so typically.

During the on-court post-game awards ceremony, Giorgis turned to his coaching staff and gave an emphatic fist pump.

In a sense, then, this wasn't the typical "just another" MAAC tournament championship for Marist.

Coming back from a 17-point late first-half deficit was a new experience.

Then again, nothing the Red Foxes couldn't handle.

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