BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Marist coach Brian Giorgis instills a defensive mindset in his players from the first day of practice.
With the offense struggling early, the Red Foxes (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) went to their strength in their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament opener, turning up the defensive pressure to rout St. Peter's 61-33 on Friday for their 24th straight victory.
"We always talk about how defense is going to win us a championship," said Marist guard Erica Allenspach, who scored all 16 of her points in the first half. "That's the first thing Giorgis tells you, if you don't play defense you're not going to play."
It's no surprise that the Red Foxes (28-2), who have the longest winning streak in the country as well as in school history, lead the nation in scoring defense. Their last loss came Dec. 4 against St. Bonaventure.
Marist went undefeated in the conference regular season for the second time, including two 40-point victories over St. Peter's. Allenspach, who was the conference player of the year, made six of her seven shots, including all four 3-pointers.
"Erica showed why she was player of the year with the first half she had," Giorgis said. "When you play people a third time our defense has to be solid, I thought it was a solid as it had to be today."
The Red Foxes are looking for their sixth straight conference tournament championship.
Teresa Manigrasso scored nine points to lead the Peahens (6-25), who advanced to the quarterfinals with an opening round win over Rider.
Both teams got off to slow starts as Marist led 9-4 after 8½ minutes. The Red Foxes play suffocating defense, allowing just 49.3 points a game. St. Peter's missed 14 of its first 16 shots, but the Red Foxes weren't much better, hitting only four of their first 15.
After two free throws by Quiana Porter cut the Peahens' deficit to three, Allenspach took over. She hit back-to-back 3s to start a 10-0 run. The second one came after she saved a ball out of bounds under her own basket and then ran the floor before getting the pass back for the open 3 from the top of the key.
Jessica Coles finally ended St. Peter's nearly 6½-minute drought without a field goal by hitting a 3-pointer from the wing that made it 19-9.
Marist led by nine before Allenspach scored the final eight points of the half, sandwiching a layup around two 3-pointers to give the Red Foxes a 30-15 lead at the break. She didn't get much help as the rest of the team was just 6-for-26 (23 percent) from the field.
"We were missing layups, but it was nice to get that win under your belt and settle down for the rest of the tournament," Allenspach said.
Marist next plays fourth-seeded Siena in the semifinals on Saturday.
The second half didn't get any better for St. Peter's. The Peahens had just two points over the first 12 minutes as Marist extended its lead to 46-17.
Aminah Davis finally ended a 10-minute scoring drought with a jumper on the baseline that got St. Peter's to 20 points. The Peahens avoided breaking the conference record for fewest points in a tournament game set by Rider last season when they had 25 against Siena.
"I thought in terms of an effort standpoint we gave a good effort," St. Peter's coach Stephanie DeWolfe said. "They just made a lot of plays and we struggled on the offensive end. We feel good. We feel like we're on the upswing and that we had a lot of freshmen who were forced to play a lot."
In other MAAC quarterfinal games, second-seeded Loyola (Md.) beat Canisius 68-53 in overtime. Miriam McKenzie made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force the extra session. Trailing 49-46 with 3.7 seconds left, McKenzie took an inbounds pass from under Loyola's own basket before hitting her shot from the top of the key. It was the largest margin of victory in overtime in MAAC tournament history. Loyola also held the previous record, topping Siena by 13 in 1993.
Third-seeded Manhattan topped rival Iona 59-47 in the other game.
The MAAC conference tournament returned to Bridgeport for one season after spending 2007 there. The tournament will head to Springfield, Mass., next year. They had spent the last three years in Albany.