March 11, 2023 

Patriot League Notebook: Battle in Beantown

Holy Cross visits Boston University to renew a Massachusetts rivalry. Can the favored Terriers close the deal?

The title game showdown is set between the top two seeds and in-state rivals Boston University and Holy Cross. The Patriot League Tournament championship game will be the tenth meeting between the two programs in the last three seasons. 

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It’s just under an hour’s drive down the Mass Pike from the Hart Center in Worcester to Case Gymnasium in Boston but in terms of league legacies, the two programs remain as distant as a Worcester lunch diner and a Boston Harbor waterfront restaurant.

The Crusaders have a legacy of success, claiming a league-leading 11 championship titles. The Terriers are the new kid on the block and in search of their first title since joining the league in 2013. Notably, Boston’s first season was the last year that Holy Cross appeared in the Patriot League Championship.

How did they get here? The Terriers pushed past Army in an 84-68 overtime victory after shutting out the Black Knights 16-0 in the extra frame. Holy Cross shut down the league’s highest scoring duo in Lehigh senior Frannie Hottinger and junior Mackenzie Kramer en route to a 71-54 victory over the Mountain Hawks.

The two teams advanced to the final, and face off after splitting games this season, each winning at home. Holy Cross has a winning record (10-8) in Case Gymnasium but the Terriers bring a 14-2 home mark this season to the final, including a 66-59 win over the Crusaders in February.

The stage is set at “The Roof” in Boston and the ladder and scissors are in the building. Let’s take a look and see who might be doing the climbing and the cutting.

Senior forward Maren Durant (pictured) and teammate Caitlin Weimar have been the best interior combination on both ends of the floor all season. (Photo credit: Matt Woolverton)

Boston has run its race from the front. Here’s why there’s no looking back now:

When you’re an overwhelming preseason favorite, the pressure to succeed is immense and it can feel like the big game can’t arrive fast enough. Boston University has finally reached its championship moment against the Crusaders. Holy Cross has been in its rear view mirror all season but there’s no looking back now. The Terriers are ready.

How will being in the final change the Terriers?

It’s going to bring out the confidence to finish what they started. If the Terriers are playing free and focused, there is no stopping them and it starts inside with their post play. In the semifinal, they faced a very physical Army team with a strong post tandem in forwards Sabria Hunter and Kamryn Hall. How did the Boston posts fare? Terriers junior Caitlin Weimar and senior Maren Durant combined for 39 points and 24 rebounds. Dominating.

On the perimeter, Alex Giannaros continues to demonstrate amazing shooting skill. The sophomore added 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting versus Army and is the most efficient scoring guard on the squad. She’s shooting 48.6% from the field, converting 89-for-183.

Senior Sydney Johnson (12.7 ppg) is ready to lead the emotional ride of this game and the player most likely to fire up the home crowd. If the emotions are going in a positive direction for the All-Patriot League First Team player, she’s going to play a vital role in bringing home Boston’s first Patriot League Tournament championship.

Can they handle the emotions of the biggest game of the season?

There’s freedom and peace that come with landing in the conference’s last game of the year — it’s a reset emotionally. The burden of expectation that can grind down a team — and perhaps played a role in Boston’s uneven but dramatic overtime victory over Army in its semifinal — shifts its weight a bit.

You can see the end and it changes a team. It’s like a runner’s kick in the final stretch of a race, the focus narrows and you’re letting it all go, straight through the tape. Boston cleared its hurdle against Army and now the goal is directly in front of them; the trophy will be in the building at tip-off. They can see the finish line and there’s no looking back for their final kick.

Patriot League
Holy Cross head coach Maureen Magarity has led the Crusaders to their first championship game since 2014. (Photo credit: Mark Seliger Photography)

Coaching has led Holy Cross back to the championship

The hiring trend for college athletics in this era leans toward selecting younger coaches, ostensibly to be more relatable to student-athletes. The cost? Less experience in teaching the game and managing a team culture.

Holy Cross went in a different direction — and it’s paid off big time.

In April 2020, Holy Cross chose a mentor with D1 head coaching and recruiting experience named Maureen Magarity its head coach. She brought six years as a D1 assistant coach with stops at Marist, Fairfield and Army, and 10 years as D1 head coach at the University of New Hampshire to Worcester.

While Magarity is just in her third campaign as a head coach in the Patriot League, she’s in year 13 as a lead mentor in D1 and has made her experience count in a career field with a steep learning curve and a consistently shifting ground beneath those sideline Nikes.

Last season’s Coach of the Year, Magarity has created stability for the program in a league with an evolving coaching landscape.

In the last four years, nine of the 10 programs have hired a new head coach, including Holy Cross. Five out of 10 head coaches in the conference are in their first college head coaching job and four of those landed in the league to navigate head coaching responsibilities for the first time in their career at any level.

Magarity has stabilized the Crusader program and used her experience to grow a successful team culture in very short order. The on-court results, including a COVID-19 shortened season: a 50-27 overall record, including a 34-16 mark in conference play.

The wins reflect her experience and ability to navigate the ups and downs of a team both on and off the court. In a profession where a coach’s success begins with caring about the people they mentor and helping them care about each other, it’s clear that Magarity has her program on track and on the verge of growing the Holy Cross legacy.

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Players to watch: Alex Giannaros. The sophomore guard is lighting it up from distance and may just be the key to the Terriers’ fortunes on Sunday. Her production is a big indicator that Boston is both succeeding inside with its post play and attacking defenses off the dribble. She doesn’t miss often, and her consistency is impressive. She’s shot better than 50% from the floor in 14 of her 24 games.

Giannaros is scoring 10.7 points per game and shooting an incredible 53.2% from three-point range on a 50-for-94 effort. How important is her production? When she scores 10 points or more, the Terriers have a 10-game winning streak. Something to keep an eye on.

The player to watch for the Crusaders is Lindsay Berger. The sophomore shot 10-for-16 from the floor for a career-high 22 points in a 57-53 win at home over Boston. The post matchups for Berger and forward Janelle Allen against BU’s Durant and Weimar are the center of the championship story. The Crusaders need another big performance from Berger.

The 6’2 forward leads the team in rebounding with 6.6 per game and is second in made field goals, converting 120-for-229 for a 52.4% effort from the floor. In the semifinal versus Lehigh, she also showed the ability to switch out on guards and effectively defend.

The key stat: Offensive boards. In both meetings, this stat was close. Holy Cross edged in front 7-6 in round one and 11-10 in round two. Second-chance points were similar with Boston winning 6-5 in the first game but losing 11-7 in the second. The Terriers are an excellent shooting team and produce less opportunities for offensive boards — but the Terriers still grab 29.2% of their misses. This is a category that the visiting Crusaders need to win to come out on top.

The way Boston runs its offense will influence this dynamic.

Boston went to a two-post set up down low in their offense against Army in the semifinal, limiting the Black Knights’ ability to sag off the post on the perimeter and jam up the lane. The result on post entries was to force an Army double-team from the post on the opposite block and pull down a rotating guard from the weakside to take the post — or give up the post to post pass for the easy score.

What does that mean for the Crusaders? It means that if they choose to double Weimar or Durant down low in a similar set, then a Holy Cross guard will have to check a Boston forward on the shot — and that may have a huge impact on the offensive board numbers for Boston.

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How Boston University wins: They need to navigate the emotion of the moment and stay within their respective roles. There’s a tendency to force the action or press too much in a big game. If the Terrier players can play within themselves and stick to the disciplined approach that’s produced one of their most dominant seasons, they’ll cut down the nets.

Hosting a championship can bring out a lot of emotional energy and nerves. Boston will have to channel that energy from tip-off or the Crusaders could get the same early jump they had in the regular season game at Case Gymnasium in which they led at the half, 41-33.

Boston also needs to coach aggressively. In the Army game, head coach Melissa Graves faced a 21-13 deficit after the first quarter but adjusted with a 2-3 zone that completely changed he game. The Terriers won the quarter 24-7 and flipped the momentum.

How Holy Cross wins: Aggressiveness on the offensive end. In the team’s 66-59 road loss earlier this season, the Crusaders shot just 6-for-24 in the second half when Boston turned up its defensive pressure. Holy Cross couldn’t find a way to generate points in the key moments of the fourth quarter. To win, they have to minimize both scoring slumps and turnovers.

The Crusaders need to execute their set pieces coming out of time-outs and quarter breaks. Who is going to score when they need a bucket?

Bronagh Power-Cassidy had just five points in the first game and eight in the second. While the junior is a key facilitator in her squad’s offense, she is going to need to score more in the final for the Crusaders to claim the title. If Power-Cassidy is finding the range, Holy Cross will earn its 12th league trophy.

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Final Standings:

(League record, overall record)

  1. Boston University (17-1, 24-7)
  2. Holy Cross (13-5, 23-8)
  3. Lehigh (12-6, 17-14)
  4. Colgate (10-8, 16-14)
  5. Army (10-8, 13-17)
  6. Bucknell (9-9, 13-17)
  7. American (7-11, 9-22)
  8. Lafayette (7-11, 10-19)
  9. Loyola (MD) (4-14, 10-21)
  10. Navy (1-17, 1-29)

Tune in to Patriot League action this week

(Note: Unless noted, all games are streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition. All times are ET.)

Patriot League Championship Game March 12
Championship game @ 12:00p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Written by Todd Goclowski

Todd Goclowski currently covers the Patriot League for The Next. Goclowski brings 25 years of coaching experience to his role as an analyst and writer, including 19 years of coaching women's basketball in the NCAA at the D1 and D3 levels.

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