By Dylan Manfre
Starting off the season 3-0 on its home floor has the women’s basketball team feeling confident as conference play nears.
After Rider left Alumni Gym with a 77-63 win over Wagner on Dec. 18, guard Amari Johnson, who is one of six seniors on this experienced roster, said the Broncs are the team to beat in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).
“I think that now we’re the team to beat,” Amari Johnson said. “We’ve been winning against a lot of big-name schools and we’ve done so well in the past year in the conference.”
Head Coach Lynn Milligan agreed.
“It’s a grind,” Milligan said. “I say it all the time the MAAC is an incredibly underrated conference. We beat the heck out of each other. Every team does. There are some fantastic players and terrific coaches and everyone wants to hang the banner in March. All 11 teams want what we want.”
Playing Wagner for the first time since 2006, it took Rider a little bit to find its footing. Once the Broncs took away their main options, they were able to hold a lead.
“We knew what a lot of their strengths were and we took away a lot of their inside touches,” Milligan said. “Their perimeter kids challenged us particularly in that fourth quarter.”
One thing Rider could have done a better job of was defending the 3-point shot. Fifteen of Wagner’s 19 points in the opening quarter came from behind the arc. Rider’s opponents are shooting a combined 35% from deep this season. The Broncs held them to make two more the rest of the way.
The Broncs shot 1-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half.
31-27 Rider at halftime… relativity low scoring game so far. pic.twitter.com/YbKiY6DHal— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) December 19, 2019
A 3-pointer from freshman guard Maya Hyacienth at the 4:50 mark of the third quarter broke a streak of 11 missed attempts.
“She’s in the gym every day,” Milligan said. “I put her in initially to give us a defensive spark. It was only a matter of time before she hit those threes. She shoots them confident. She doesn’t hesitate and people make the mistake of leaving her wide open. She’s doing a great job of fine-tuning her role and when you leave her open she’s going to burn you.”
Hyacienth finished with six points and two rebounds.
Good ball movement and a solid effort at crashing the boards allowed the Broncs to gain the momentum needed to take a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter.
Coming into the game senior guard Stella Johnson had accounted for 43% of the Broncs’ 475 point total.
Against Wagner, however, it was Amari Johnson who led all scorers with a season-high 24 points.
Stella Johnson described her offensive weapon of a teammate as “an independent person” and said that during their sophomore year the two got really close.
“[Amari Johnson] would guard me in practice and I think that has made us more competitive on the court,” Stella Johnson said. “We know each others’ tendencies and I know where she’s going to be on the court.”
Senior forward Lea Favre started for the third straight game after she started the season recovering from an ankle injury.
The Broncs are now 3-0 with her in the lineup. Her 46.3% shooting from the field has helped take some of the load off of Stella Johnson, who leads the nation in scoring at 29.4 points per game.
“Lea is always slept on in this league,” Stella Johnson said. “Finally getting All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Preseason Team — should’ve got it last season — but it’s just great having her back. She adds another umph to our team.”
Two of Favre’s 12 points came from a layup that put Rider up 17 as time expired in the third quarter.
The Broncs have a lengthy 12-day break before they take the court at Delaware State on Dec. 30 at 4 p.m.
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