The Marist College Red Foxes women's basketball team clinched its sixth Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season championship Sunday with a 78-49 trouncing of Siena in front of almost 3,000 fans.
Coming off a hard-fought 78-73 overtime victory at Hartford last Sunday, ending the Lady Hawks' 34-game home winning streak, the Red Foxes won a tough road game at Manhattan on Thursday, 91-82.
Marist (25-3, 15-2 MAAC) started the game a little slow, playing to a 12-12 tie before really laying it on the Saints.
Sophomore Elise Caron was instrumental to the Red Foxes' success to begin the game, scoring eight points and taking a hard charge before getting her first breather. She finished with nine points, three assists, two steals, and no turnovers.
Any words or stat sheets don't do justice to Caron's defensive presence on the court. She's as tough as they get.
Rachele Fitz was held in check early, as Siena sophomore Serena Moore had the height and wingspan to control the paint on the defensive end.
Even with a sub-par game from Julianne Viani and Fitz being suppressed, Marist's supporting cast stepped up in a big and balanced way.
For the fourth time this season, every available Red Fox converted a field goal as Brian Giorgis' squad shot 47 percent from the floor and 50 percent from downtown.
The biggest scare came towards the end of the first half when Viani fell to the floor grabbing her upper quad. She sat out the rest of the half and was visibly affected by it in the second half.
The injury appeared cramping in her leg, as she was able to return and run the floor, but the discomfort she showed was enough reason to give her a rest.
Viani finished with only six points, but still managed to dish out five assists. She has 14 dimes and only one turnover in her last two games.
Patience was a virtue as Fitz eventually found her swagger, pouring in 16 points and pulling down six rebounds. She was the only Marist player in double-digits.
Defending MAAC Sixth Player of the Year Lynzee Johnson has caught fire this past week, beginning with her 12 points off the bench at Hartford, which included several clutch baskets and free throws at the end of regulation and in overtime.
She continued her hot streak with a career-high 17 points at Manhattan, going 4-for-4 from three-point land for the second time this season.
Johnson scored nine points Sunday on 4-for-7 shooting, making her only three-point attempt. At 5'10", she poses a threat both inside and outside, creating havoc for whoever is trying to guard her. She rebounds, handles the ball, and plays solid defense.
Contributions like hers will be very important in March, as Marist continues to have a super-sized target on its back when playing conference games. Having won three NCAA Tournament games the last two years, the Red Foxes won't be catching any teams by surprise if they make the Dance this year.
If Johnson and freshmen Brandy Gang and Corielle Yarde continue to be effective off the bench, giving the team multiple options when the normal game plan isn't working, it will make the Red Foxes even more dangerous than they already are.
Marist finishes up the regular season Saturday at home against Rider and gets a few days off before the MAAC Tournament, being held in Albany from March 5-8. As the No. 1 seed, Marist gets a first-round bye and faces the winner of the No. 8/9 seed opening round game.
Despite only having three losses on the season, Marist's strength of schedule (161) and RPI (42) might not be enough to lock up an at-large bid (though reputation may help), so winning the conference tournament to get the automatic berth is crucial.
Marist has a plethora of talent and a great mix of youth and experience to earn a fourth straight MAAC Tournament trophy.