Stella Johnson pushes Rider to Big Ten upset

Updated on Nov. 13 with quotes from Stella Johnson.

By Dylan Manfre

The sting from the women’s basketball team’s season-opening loss to Princeton went away in its game against Penn State.

Senior guard Stella Johnson, who was named MAAC Player of the Week on Nov. 10 had her first 20-plus point game of the 2019 season in Rider’s 78-70 win over the Nittany Lions on Nov. 10.

“[Head Coach Lynn Milligan] was really on us after the week we lost,” said Stella Johnson, who was named the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year. “Every day in practice we focused on the details of the mistakes we made in in that game [against Princeton]. As a team we had to communicate better and that was one thing the coaches harped on.”

Milligan said the team did a lot of work both on and off the court.

“It took us a day or so to get our feet back under us because we were disappointed in our effort at Princeton,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said.

“[Penn State] is a win this veteran group has worked really hard for. We’ve been in situations where we’ve played the Power Five teams and have not performed the way we wanted to and it was time for this group in particular to do that.”

The Broncs got out to a 21-9 lead at the end of the opening quarter but a 17-8 Penn State run cut the lead to three nearing the end of the first half.

Redshirt junior Amari Johnson finished the game with her first double-double of the season, recording 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Milligan said she has not settled for who would be in the sixth slot in the rotation, but senior forward Lea Favre made her season debut off the bench for the Broncs against Penn State and played 17 minutes. 

Favre finished the game with six points off of 2-for-7 shooting and a block. She also went 2-for-2 from the free throw line. Favre missed the Princeton game nursing an ankle injury she suffered in the preseason.

Stella Johnson mentioned that Favre looked as though she “Didn’t miss a beat.”

“She looked great!” Johnson said. “You know how people that come back from an injury and are a little wary about stepping onto the court and being physical … Lea wasn’t. She looked comfortable.”

Milligan said there was no “secret formula” to what the team did in the five days in between the Princeton and Penn State games but that they just needed to work harder.

“Our flow on offense we worked on over the past couple of days and being able to communicate better on defense and not give up easy buckets. I don’t think we gave up many easy buckets to Penn State,” she said.

The team has another five-day break between Penn State and their home opener against Xavier on Nov. 16. Milligan said Rider is using the downtime to build the consistency that they ultimately want play with throughout the season.

“You have to learn — if not more — from a win than you do a loss and we have a lot of thing to correct that we didn’t do well [against Penn State]. We’ll have a lot of good practice time this week time to recover. [There are] some things on the defensive end that we’ve got to tighten up just with our defensive discipline and fouling and with our rebounding.”

The season is still young but Milligan knows the team is ready for the grind of the season once things get going.

“I think [the time off] benefits them physically and mentally,” Milligan said. “We have a veteran team but we also have a lot of youth. You talk about the grind of the season and just the daily routine it takes to be successful and now we’re in it. I think it sometimes smacks you in the face and you’re like ‘OK it’s here.’ I think these days off gives you a bit of exhale and regroup.”

Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on Rider women’s basketball.

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