Saturday, December 4, 2021

MSU beats Marist in close game, 55-47

March 23, 2013

State News sports reporters Stephen Brooks and Zach Smith break down MSU’s win over Marist in the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Photo by Stephen Brooks | and Zach Smith The State News

College Park, Md. – The MSU women’s basketball team withstood a late comeback to narrowly avoid a classic NCAA Tournament upset scenario as the No. 5 seed on Saturday afternoon, taking down No. 12 seed Marist, 55-47.

The Spartans advance to the round of 32 to play host and No. 4 seed Maryland at 7 p.m. Monday.

“I think for everyone in the (NCAA Tournament) field, when you see your name come up and Marist come up after it, you think that you pulled the unlucky number because they are a very good team,” head coach Suzy Merchant said.

Sophomore guard Kiana Johnson led MSU with 16 points and six assists, while junior forward Annalise Pickrel added 14 huge points off the bench to end the Red Foxes’ 21-game winning streak.

Marist, a powerhouse program from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, jumped out to an early 5-0 lead as MSU took more than three minutes to score its first bucket. The Red Foxes enjoyed an overwhelming majority in the crowd at the Comcast Center on the campus of the University of Maryland – the same site where MSU was ousted in their tournament opener last season.

A layup from sophomore forward Becca Mills tied the game at 14 apiece with 7:15 left in the first half. From there, Pickrel scored 11 straight points – including three 3-pointers – to help the Spartans pull away and take a 25-16 advantage into halftime.

“She’s 6-(foot)-3, shoots the three, can go inside,” Marist head coach Brian Giorgis said of Pickrel. “Here’s a kid that can shoot threes and is one of their best post players, and that’s a bad matchup for us.”

It wasn’t a pretty first half for either squad, as MSU shot 31.8 percent from the floor and Marist was just slightly better at 38.5 percent. Both teams turned it over seven times and, oddly, there were no free throws attempted in the first 20 minutes.

Junior guard Klarissa Bell – MSU’s leading scorer – was held to just two points on six attempts, but grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. Marist head coach Brian Giorgis credited the defensive prowess of guard Leanne Ockenden in shutting down Bell.

At halftime, Giorgis told his team they were playing too timid, that they weren’t shooting the shots they needed to be taking, he said.

The Red Foxes started the second half red hot shooting the ball. Three consecutive triples from Marist cut the Spartans’ lead to six and what originally had the makings of a rout turned into a tight game the rest of the way.

A pair of free throws from Marist guard Sydney Coffey and a 3-pointer from Red Fox captain Casey Dulin put the MSU advantage at 31-30 and forced Merchant to call a timeout less than four minutes into the half.

Earlier in the week senior guard Jasmine Thomas said the Spartans wouldn’t overlook their mid-major opponent, and after the game she said the second-half run from Marist wasn’t unexpected.

“They are a good team and can get it going,” Thomas said. “We just had to stay poised and calm on both offense and defense and try to step it up. They were hitting threes right in our face without our hands up. It was just minor things that we had to fix to get back into it.”

The Red Foxes took a brief 33-31 lead after another Dulin 3-pointer with 13:46 remaining, but that would prove to be the final time Marist held the lead.

MSU wasn’t able to grow its lead past seven points through the next 10 minutes as it tried to put away a resilient Marist team.

The Spartans led 51-47 following a layup from Marist’s Elizabeth Beynnon at the 3:02 mark, and started to burn as much clock as possible to try to preserve the lead.

Johnson knocked down two free throws to extend MSU’s lead to six before missing a jumper on the next possession. Thomas snagged Johnson’s miss for a huge rebound with 1:34 left that re-started the shot clock and allowed the Spartans to milk the clock further.

Marist was not accustomed to playing from behind in late game situations, Giorgis said, and it showed as they were late to foul the Spartans in an attempt to preserve time.

By the time they fouled Johnson for the last time, with 18 seconds left, it was too late. She sunk the pair from the foul line for the final points of the game.

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“Basketball is a game of runs,” Johnson said. “We knew that they were going to make a run eventually. We just had to get our focus back and once we did that we were all right.”

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