By Stephen Neukam
A split two-game road trip saw the women’s basketball team climb to second in the MAAC, with a victory over Marist, 68-58, on Jan. 30 and a loss to the reigning MAAC champions, Quinnipiac, 72-56, on Feb. 3.
Rider entered the game against Marist on the back of its first conference loss of the season, a defeat to Canisius on Jan. 26.
The Broncs did not look hindered by that setback, with four players scoring in double figures for Rider. Junior guard Stella Johnson and junior forward Lea Favre led the Bronc attack, each finishing with 18 points. Senior guard Lexi Posset and junior guard Amari Johnson notched 15 points each.
As a team, Rider shot 47.2 percent from the field in the game. The Broncs limited the Red Foxes to just over 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from the three-point line.
“I think, defensively, we did a nice job,” said Head Coach Lynn Milligan. “We did a good job of staying within the game plan. We made some mistakes, but we were able to bounce back from them.”
With the win, Rider improved to 7-1 in conference play, which is a first in program history.
The real test proved to be against Quinnipiac, which has won the MAAC for the past four seasons. Over that span, the Bobcats have amassed a record of 82-6 in conference play.
The Broncs were again led by Stella Johnson, who posted 22 points and six rebounds. Amari Johnson poured in another 15 points and finished with six rebounds as well.
Despite the performance from both Stella Johnson and Amari Johnson, Rider’s defense allowed Quinnipiac to shoot 46.8 percent from the field and was outscored 35-25 in the second half.
The loss was Rider’s first on the road in conference play. The Broncs were a perfect 5-0 in away games before the contest.
The MAAC standings have Quinnipiac at the top with a 10-0 conference record, followed by Rider in second with a 7-2 mark. The Broncs sit ahead of Marist and Niagara, which hold the third and fourth spots respectively.
Rider fell to 0-14 all time against the Bobcats with the defeat.
“We know who we’re chasing. Quinnipiac is the defending [postseason] champion two times over for a reason,” said Milligan. “We’ve got to make sure we continue to learn from the mistakes we made on the offensive and defensive ends.”
The Broncs have lost two of their last three games, the first time they have done so since early December. Rider is 5-3 this season in games following a loss.
At this time last season, the Broncs were 6-6 in MAAC action. A large reason for the improvement this year has been the play of Stella Johnson, who leads the MAAC in scoring at just under 20 points per game and is No. 2 in assists per game.
The impressive performances do not stop at Stella Johnson, Amari Johnson, Favre or Posset. As a team, Rider has the third best offensive output in the MAAC and plays some of the most stifling defense, averaging the second most blocks and steals per game.
The Broncs will surely look to strengthen on those numbers, as they gear up for a three-game homestand against formidable MAAC opponents. Monmouth visits Rider on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m., followed by Marist on Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. and Iona on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.