Third-quarter comeback sends Broncs to MAAC semis

By Rob Rose

ALBANY, N.Y. — On the same day she was named the 2019 MAAC Player of the Year, junior guard Stella Johnson led the women’s basketball team to a 54-46 victory over Iona in the MAAC Championship quarterfinals on March 8.

Johnson, who played the entire 40 minutes, nearly recorded a triple-double with 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, as Rider stormed back from down 15 at halftime to win.

Prior to the game at the MAAC Basketball Postseason Awards Show, Johnson was named MAAC Player of the Year. She became the second player in program history to win the award, joining Robin Perkins who won in 2017.

“There’s a lot of talented players in this league and I was just grateful to get this award,” said Johnson.

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Johnson was named MAAC Player of the Week six times during the season, more than any other player in the conference. She also was the only unanimous All-MAAC First Team selection after she led the conference in points per game with 18.6 and steals per game with 2.7.

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The Broncs outscored the Gaels, 20-4, in the third quarter and shot 64 percent to take a 36-35 lead into the final quarter. Iona shot 1-for-10 in the quarter and turned the ball over four times.

“[At] halftime, we took a little breath,” said Head Coach Lynn Milligan. “In the second half, you saw a lot more of the Rider basketball we’re very proud of.”

Rider responded to the halftime talk from Milligan and rode a 16-0 run that spanned five minutes to erase the Gaels’ advantage. On a layup by sophomore forward Daija Moses setup by Johnson, the Broncs tied the game in under eight minutes after trailing by 15.

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The teams traded baskets through the fourth quarter as Iona battled to get back into the lead, but Rider held them off with timely scoring from senior guard Lexi Posset and Moses. Posset added 12 points and a pair of 3-pointers.

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Rider struggled to establish its offense early and Iona was ready to play from the opening tip. A 7-0 run by the Gaels fueled a strong start that led to a 15-10 advantage after the first quarter.

Iona’s Shyan Mwai gave Rider problems throughout the entire first half. Mwai had 14 points including a 4-for-5 performance from beyond the arc. In the first two quarters, 3-point shooting was the biggest factor in the Gaels’ 31-16 halftime lead.

As a team in the first half, Iona was 7-for-12 from 3-point range, while Rider went 0-for-8. The Gaels also assisted on nine of their 12 baskets while the Broncs had four assists on eight made shots and hit 28 percent of their shots before halftime.

Iona went 3-15 in conference play this season, but defeated the No. 7 seed Siena, 75-64 in the first round of the MAAC tournament on March 7.

Rider will play the winner of the quarterfinal matchup between Marist and Manhattan on March 10 at 1:30 p.m. The game can be streamed on ESPN3.

In the regular season, Rider went 2-0 against Marist and 1-1 against Manhattan.

Follow Rob Rose on Twitter.

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