Allenspach leads Marist to victory
Red Foxes extend nation-best winning streak to 26 games
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Erica Allenspach wasn't going to let her senior season end without another conference tournament championship.
Allenspach scored 21 points and No. 19 Marist clinched an NCAA tournament bid for the sixth consecutive season with a 63-45 victory against Loyola (Md.) on Monday. The Red Foxes extended their nation-best winning streak to 26 games by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship for the sixth consecutive year.
"It feels unbelievable,'' said Allenspach, who was wearing one of the nets around her neck that the Red Foxes cut down after the victory. "We didn't want to be that senior class that didn't get it done in the MAAC tournament. We wanted to finish as we did as freshmen - 21-0.''
The senior guard was the catalyst for the Red Foxes this season after they lost all-time leading scorer Rachele Fitz to graduation.
"All these have been really special and this one ranks up there with the best of them,'' Marist coach Brian Giorgis said. "They've all been unique and special and to be able to do what we've done this year after graduating the best player in school history is phenomenal.''
Allenspach turned up her game in the MAAC tournament. The regular-season player of the year averaged 25 points in the first two games, making 10 of her 11 3-point attempts.
On Monday, with her teammates struggling, the tournament's MVP kept Marist around long enough for help to arrive. With the Red Foxes (30-2) leading by two at the half, the other four starters keyed a 16-4 run to take control of the game.
Even had they lost in the championship game, the Red Foxes would have most likely secured the conference's first at-large bid to the NCAA tournament since 2001. They weren't going to leave anything up to chance.
"We just want to go to the tournament and do some damage,'' Giorgis said.
Marist got off to a slow start, missing 16 of its first 18 shots, so the senior guard took over. Trailing 14-5, Allenspach scored the final five points of a 9-0 spurt to tie the game at 14. She hit a 3-pointer from way behind the arc and a layup to cap the burst.
Later in the half, with her team down three, she found teammates on consecutive possessions for an open layup and a 3-pointer to give the Red Foxes a 25-23 halftime advantage.
"You don't win the game in the first 5 minutes,'' Allenspach said. ``We could go deeper than they could.''
After missing 25 of their first 28 shots, the other four starters finally got going, sparking the run that broke the game open.
Brandy Gang started it with a layup, and Corielle Yarde added a three-point play - her first basket of the game - that made it 32-25. Elise Caron and Leanne Ockenden sandwiched 3-pointers around a three-point play by Gang that made it a 13-point game.
The Greyhounds couldn't get within single digits the rest of the way as Allenspach hit basket after basket whenever Loyola tried to make a run.
"She makes huge shots,'' Loyola coach Joe Logan said. "We cut it to 12 and she makes a big 3. She's the one they go to when they need baskets. If we had continued to shut her down we would have been in the game.''
Katie Sheahin scored 17 points to lead Loyola (20-12).
Marist, which moved up to 19th in the poll earlier Monday for its best ranking ever, ran through the conference tournament in the same fashion as it did the regular season - when the Red Foxes went undefeated in the MAAC for the second time in school history.
Loyola had a much tougher time making the finals. The Greyhounds needed a last-second 3-pointer by Miriam McKenzie to force overtime in a quarterfinal win against Canisius. Loyola then held off Manhattan by three in the semis.
Loyola was looking for its third conference championship and first since 1995. The Greyhounds have been in the title game six times, with the last coming in 2006 when they lost to Marist, which started the Red Foxes' current run.
"We shot 30 percent and they shot 14 more shots than us,'' Logan said. "I'm proud of our kids' effort and how we came back after starting the season 0-5.''