March 19, 2007
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- Alisa Kresge and her Marist teammates gathered at midcourt for a rather subdued celebration following their second straight shocking upset in the NCAA tournament.
Once off the court, they all let loose, screaming and sprinting their way to the locker room.
Marist is crashing the power-packed Dayton Regional.
Kresge dished out nine assists, handled Middle Tennessee's vaunted press with aplomb and helped hold leading-scorer Chrissy Givens in check as Marist became just the third No. 13 seed ever to make it to the round of 16 with a 73-59 victory Monday night.
"This is amazing," Kresge said. "This is huge for mid-major teams, especially in the MAAC. I don't think anybody expected a mid-major from the MAAC to be in the sweet 16. It's incredible."
Nikki Flores scored 21 points to lead Marist, Julianne Viani and Meg Dahlman added 13 apiece and freshman Lynzee Johnson scored all seven of her points during a key 15-2 run late in the second half. The Red Foxes (29-5) of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference snapped fifth-seeded Middle Tennessee's 27-game winning streak, the longest in the nation.
The talk of the tournament coming into the first round were the all the powerhouses in the Dayton Regional with Tennessee, defending-national champion Maryland, Oklahoma and Ohio State heading the group. After knocking off fourth-seeded Ohio State and Middle Tennessee (30-4) in the first two rounds, the powerhouses will have to make room for tiny Marist.
The school with an enrollment of 4,000 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., will play the winner of Tuesday night's game between top-seeded Tennessee and eighth-seeded Pittsburgh on Sunday in Dayton. The only other No. 13 seeds to make it to the third round since the tournament expanded to 64 teams were Texas A&M in 1994 and Liberty in 2005.
"Absolutely incredible," coach Brian Giorgis said. "These kids never stop ceasing to amaze me. We go up against big and strong and physical, and upset Ohio State. Then we go up against extremely fast and talented Middle Tennessee and we went through the press like you hoped we would go through it."
Marist had no problems breaking Middle Tennessee's full-court press, getting down court easily for layups early in the game. The Blue Raiders force nearly 27 turnovers a game, but Marist protects the ball better than any other team in the country and had 12 turnovers.
With Kresge running the show, Marist forced Middle Tennessee to drop out of its press in the second half. The strategy worked as the Blue Raiders whittled an 11-point halftime lead down to two in just 5 minutes.
"We weren't getting flustered and I think that was driving them nuts," Viani said. "When they pulled back, I took that as a compliment. I thought, 'That's good. We got them out of what they do best."'
Johnson, who grew up five minutes from the Dayton campus, checked in for the first time and sparked the run that helped Marist pull away. With Marist up by five, she hit a 3-pointer from the corner and then converted a three-point play underneath to make it 58-47 with 6:46 to go.
Marist held the Blue Raiders to one field goal in nearly 7 minutes during the run, going on to an easy victory.
Marist has undergone a remarkable transformation in five seasons under Giorgis. The former high school coach took over a program that won only 37 games the previous five seasons and has led them to three NCAA tournaments, including the run this year.
Givens, one of the best players in Middle Tennessee history, was held to 16 points -- six under her average -- on 7-for-16 shooting in her final college game. Krystle Horton added 10 as the Blue Raiders shot just 38 percent, including 7-for-26 from 3-point range.
"We had a great season. This is only the fourth game we lost all year," Givens said.
The Red Foxes made eight of their first 11 shots, with five coming on layups against the press, to take a 19-11 lead.
The Blue Raiders then dropped into a three-quarter court press, which cut down on Marist's layups but didn't lead to the turnovers Middle Tennessee thrives on. The Blue Raiders hit two 3-pointers during a 9-0 run to take a 20-19 lead midway through the half.
Viani hit back-to-back 3-pointers to break a 26-all tie, starting a 14-3 run to end the first half. Flores also hit a 3 during the run that helped Marist take a 40-29 lead at the break. Middle Tennessee was held scoreless for the final 4:23 of the half.
"They did as good a job (against the press) as anybody we've played all year long," coach Rick Insell said. "We gave up three 3s early on, something we don't normally do. They're very intelligent, and know how to get the ball to the right person."