The top-seeded Marist College women's basketball team won its fourth straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament Sunday, beating No. 2 Canisius 78-63.
Despite the comfortable victory, things were anything but comfortable for the Red Foxes heading into the contest. The flu bug hit the team before the weekend began, as inside presence Brandy Gang (MAAC All-Rookie team) had to sit out Friday's quarterfinal matchup against Loyola, MD (won 81-27—the points allowed were the lowest in MAAC tournament history).
Then on Saturday, freshman forward Emily Stallings, who scored 10 points the day before, had to sit out with a similar illness. Gang was able to play, but clearly under the weather (Marist beat Iona 76-69—wasn't as close as the score indicates).
Late Saturday night, head coach Brian Giorgis received word that three of his players had taken ill—Gang was sick again, as were starting point guard Elise Caron and former MAAC Sixth Player of the Year Lynzee Johnson.
Johnson had been huge for the Red Foxes in the first two games, scoring 11 points and pulling down six boards in the quarterfinal, then going off for 16 points and eight rebounds in the semis.
Gang and Caron were able to play, but only combined for five points, four rebounds, and four assists in 32 total minutes. Johnson sat out completely, resting at the end of the bench in street clothes.
Johnson had emerged as the third scorer that is crucial to Marist's success. In her absence, someone would need to step up in order for the Red Foxes to escape with a victory. Erica Allenspach rose to the occasion.
Allenspach torched the nets for a career-high 22 points, sinking 4-of-7 threes, a couple of which were from NBA range. She also had six rebounds, a steal, an assist, a block, and no turnovers.
Over the three games, Allenspach had 35 points, 15 assists, and only three turnovers.
She was named to the All-Tournament Team alongside MAAC Player of the Year Rachele Fitz and Tournament MVP Julianne Viani.
Fitz had 15 points and four rebounds in the quarterfinals, a monstrous 29 points and 18 boards in the semis, and 18 points and 14 rebounds in the finals.
Viani scored 53 points throughout the tournament (8-for-21 from deep), dishing out 13 assists, and grabbing 10 rebounds.
The key coming into the game for the Red Foxes (29-3) was holding the Golden Griffins at bay from long range. In two meetings this season, Canisius' success relied completely on the deep ball.
They shot 6-for-17 from three-point land and lost at home, 70-52, but then went 11-for-20 at Marist, winning 68-60.
Canisius came out cold and stayed cold, only hitting six of its 23 three-point attempts (26 percent). They tried several different things, including dishing the ball inside, but Marist kept its composure under the basket, not committing too many fouls or giving the Griffins free points.
Another deep run in the NCAA tournament for Marist relies heavily on the selection committee. With a very complete team last season, Marist was given a No. 7 seed in Baton Rouge, where the Red Foxes ran into No. 2 seed LSU on their home court in the second round.
With a record of 29-3, RPI around 35, and strength of schedule in the 140s, Marist is looking at as high as a No. 9 or 10 seed and as low as a 12.
Put on your Marist gear, do the Red Fox Rumble, and as my first ever B/R article concluded, getcha Cinderella slippers ready!