Marist earns bid after tripping Iona in MAAC title game

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- After cruising through the regular season, Marist needed overtime to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament title.

Meg Dahlman scored a season-high 21 points and had five blocks to help Marist beat Iona 64-57 in overtime in the championship game Sunday and secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"I don't think I could have been involved in a better end season game," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis. "It was our first real gut check at the end of the season."

Marist (27-5) became the first repeat champion since St. Peter's in 1999-00. The Red Foxes, who went 17-1 in the conference and won by an average of 17.5 points, lost to Georgia 75-60 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season.

"I just hope we don't face Georgia again," Giorgis said of his potential NCAA seeding. "I like 11, I like that number. It could be 13 or 14."

Rachele Fitz, the tournament MVP, added 19 points for the Red Foxes.

"She's the best impactful freshman I've seen and I've been here five years," said Iona coach Anthony Bozzella."

Iona (20-12) was trying to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid.

"We came to win the game," Bozzella said. "It think it shows we had a very good basketball team."

With the game tied at 53, Marist scored the first five points in overtime on a layup by Dahlman and 3-pointer by Julianne Viani.

"I think it's nice when you come out that hard," Dahlman said. "Jumping out to that early lead kind of calmed our nerves a little bit."

The Gaels could get no closer than three the rest of the way.

Tiara Headen led Iona with 15 points and Martina Weber, the MAAC conference player of the year, added 12 and 10 rebounds. Weber was just 4-for-14 from the field as the Gaels were only 22-for-64 (34 percent) from the floor.

"I can hardly talk," said a shaken Weber. "I am dead inside and there are no words to express what I'm feeling. We put everything into the game."

Giorgis was impressed by the defense on the Iona star.

"That's the best job I've seen anyone do against Martina Weber," Giorgis said.

Both teams had chances to win the game at the end of regulation. With the game tied at 53, Lauren DeFalco missed a layup that would have given Iona the lead.

"I had a point-blank layup," DeFalco said. "It's going to be hard to swallow for a while."

After a timeout, Marist ran the clock down, but Nikki Flores missed a foul-line jumper.

The Red Foxes have won 18 of their last 19 games. Marist has won the last 14 meetings between the schools.

Trailing 37-32 with 14:28 left in the second half, Weber picked up her fourth foul. The Gaels rallied over the next 5 minutes, going on a 9-3 run to take their first lead since early in the first half. Headen scored seven of the nine points during the spurt.

The teams traded the lead three times before Dahlman's layup made it 52-51 with 1:36 left in regulation. DeFalco made two free throws to give Iona a one-point edge, but Viani's free throw tied the game with 52.6 seconds left.

Top-seeded Marist beat Manhattan and Siena to advance to the championship game.

Second-seeded Iona topped St. Peter's and Loyola (Md.) to get to the finals.

Marist built a 28-23 halftime lead behind Fitz, who scored 12 points and had six rebounds.