By Dylan Manfre
Saint Peter’s entered March 6 with five conference wins this season.
It has had only six over the last four years.
How Saint Peter’s managed to end Rider’s 14-game win streak on Feb. 6 may still be a mystery, but avoiding a repeat of the last meeting was important to the women’s basketball team.
“We didn’t defend them up at their place,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said. “We were trying to lock in more on personnel today and make sure our switches were on-point, took away some of their quick 3s and tried to keep them out of the paint.”
It seemed fitting that on their senior night, the program’s all-time leading scorer was responsible for the first four points of the game on March 5 — Senior guard Stella Johnson’s contributions to the team will be hard to replicate after she graduates.
Johnson is the leading scorer in the nation at 24.2 points per game and the only active Division I women’s college basketball player to score 2,000 career points, 700 career rebounds, 400 career assists and 300 career steals.
Johnson has never been someone who likes the spotlight but has been a catalyst for her team’s success this season.
Throughout the game, Johnson carried the ball from coast-to-coast converting layups and found her teammates for open shots like the playmaker she has been over her four-year career.
She led all scorers with 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting to complement 10 rebounds.
Stella Johnson officially has a double double with 31 points and 10 rebounds.— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) March 6, 2020
Amari Johnson hits a 3-pointer off a Stella Johnson assist putting Rider up 20, 69-49 with 3:42 left. Would be hard to mount a comeback here.
She said she did not want to “put on a show” as much as she wanted to avenge the sting of the previous meeting.
“We were kind of just a little salty from the last time we played them,” Johnson said after the 72-52 victory. “I think we all just wanted to go out there and beat them, like a good beating, but all the seniors wanted to put on a show in our las time in Alumni [Gym] to play hard for the last one here.”
Saint Peter’s kept the game interesting with six lead changes before halftime when the Broncs took a slim 35-32 lead.
The Broncs’ defense had a relatively hard time defending the long two-pointers the Peacocks took. Taiah Thornton was 4-for-7 from the field and 2-for-3 from long range. Wil’lisha Jackson, who had six points in the first meeting, ended her half with as many points on four fewer shots.
Johnson had the first eight points for Rider coming out of halftime which included a 3-point play. She was fouled hard from Jackson and two other Saint Peter’s defenders.
Through six minutes, Rider held Saint Peter’s to four points on 2-10 shooting.
The Peacocks showed their gritty side, as did the Broncs. Both senior guard Amari Johnson and Zoe Pero were assessed technical fouls after a scuffle at the 3:50 mark of the third quarter and it seemed to be a turning point in the game for Rider.
The Broncs outscored Saint Peter’s 9-7 from that mark as Stella Johnson and Amari Johnson combined for the nine points on 2-of-5 shooting from the field.
Though Milligan did not acknowledge that sequence as a potential turning point of the game, things seemed to shift from then on. Rider held Saint Peter’s to 20 points in the second half and 0-for-7 from behind the arc. The Broncs shot 41. 6% from the field.
Amari Johnson and Stella Johnson dominated the fourth quarter. Both of them notched double-doubles — Amari Johnson’s conference-leading 16th of the season, as she finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds. Only twice this year has she gotten more than 16 rebounds.
Amari Johnson has her MAAC leading 16th double-double on her last rebound.— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) March 6, 2020
15p 12r. She is three away from tying Rider’s MyNeshia McKenzie, who had 19 in 2013.
“We’re a good offensive team. That’s what other people have pegged our identity to be, we don’t believe that that’s our identity,” Milligan said. “We believe our identity is a defensive team — and a tough strong defensive team — when we’re on point and on our fundamentals, a very good defensive team. Our defense turns into our offense… that’s who we are.”
Rider has already clinched a first-round bye in the upcoming postseason tournament. While the emotions ran high as the seniors, along with their families, stood at center court and took pictures with Milligan, there are still games left to play.
As of now, the Broncs do not know who they will face yet. But Stella Johnson mentioned that all of the seniors have such a strong bond that will definitely play into how they perform in Atlantic City.
“I think it’s just like a friendship like we know what each other wants,” she said. “When we step onto the court we know what we’re thinking. I think we just know each other and that’s just [what] the whole season [is] about and just getting the end goal.”
The Broncs have their last game of the 2019-2020 regular season at Monmouth on March 7 at 4 p.m.
Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on the women’s basketball team and stay tuned for The Rider News’ coverage of the upcoming MAAC basketball tournament.