By Dylan Manfre
Following a 30-point blowout in its last game, the women’s basketball team opened MAAC play with a home victory over Fairfield for the first time since 2013, 62-59, on Jan. 6 with a game-winning shot by junior guard Stella Johnson.
It was only fitting that Rider’s first on-the-court action in 16 days was in a high-stakes MAAC matchup against the Fairfield Stags, who lost its conference opener to Quinnipiac three days prior.
Down by three with two minutes left in regulation, the Broncs needed to get the ball in the hands of their sharpshooter and leading scorer.
Johnson drained a three-pointer with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter, and tied the game at 57-57.
Believe it or not, it wasn’t her biggest shot.
As she fell to the ground, Johnson heaved up a layup to put Rider up, 61-59, with two seconds remaining. The game-winning shot put Rider ahead for good.
Johnson, who tied her career high with 35 points, said after watching the Quinnipiac vs. Fairfield game that communication and defense was needed in order for Rider to the win.
“We saw Quinnipiac lock [Fairfield] up on defense so we thought, if we just played our defense and played our basketball, then we would be good,” said Johnson.
The Broncs forced the Stags to miss their first three shots before Lou Lopez-Senchal hit a jumper. The Broncs defense grabbed 11 first-quarter boards and forced four Fairfield turnovers in the opening minutes.
A 5-0 run in the second quarter gave Fairfield momentum. Stags center Khadidiatou Diouf scored 12 points in the quarter after going 0-for-3 in the first quarter. Her efforts were part of a 16-8 Stags run which spanned seven minutes. As a team, Fairfield shot 8-for-17 in the second quarter.
“When you have a really good post player, the key is your perimeter defense, and I think these guys did a really good job at limiting the easy touches,” said Head Coach Lynn Milligan. “I thought [Fairfield] got too many easy, comfortable looks, and we needed to get them out of their comfort zone, which I thought we did in the second half.”
Fairfield carried its momentum into the second half on a 10-4 run to give the Stags a 12 point lead at the 6:35 mark of the third quarter.
Rider then matched Fairfield with a run of their own. The Broncs scored 12 unanswered points through the end of the third and into the fourth quarter. A free throw by junior guard Amari Johnson pulled Rider to within three points with 8:22 left in regulation. The lead was cut again to three with 3:18 left after Amari Johnson and junior forward Lea Favre scored some much needed buckets.
Rider will face Monmouth [5-7, 1-0 MAAC] on Jan. 10 at 11:30 a.m. in West Long Branch. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.
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