Broncs earn first MAAC victory after offensive boost

By Dylan Manfre

A brief 36-hour turnaround between Rider’s last game on Dec. 18 and its 59-43 win against Siena on Dec. 20 might have been the best thing to happen for the Broncs. 

The Broncs came out with the vengeance and motivation it spoke about after the close loss to Quinnipiac in their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) opener on Dec. 18. Those thoughts of the four-point loss were still fresh in their minds.

“When you do have a tough loss the best thing is that you really don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself,” Milligan said. “You got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get prepared for the next game which is what we did.”

Right from the opening tip Rider played with a winner’s energy. Senior guard Lenaejha Evans and sophomore guard Makayla Firebaugh had big games for the Broncs in the win, and it started with an opening quarter that saw Rider shoot 80% from the field and hold Siena to a modest eight points.

Play-by-play announcer Emmanuel Berbari called it the “Mona Lisa of first quarters,” for the Broncs. 

Firebaugh’s 14-point night began with nine points in the first quarter, converting three shots from long range. 

A 17-point halftime lead exemplified why Rider wanted to win this game. It had the advantage in many categories but perhaps the most jarring was the lead in field goal percentage. 

The Broncs shot 66.7% from the field and held Siena to 26%. Firebaugh and Evans combined for 24 of the 37 halftime points and it came on 9-of-13 shooting.

Sophomore forward Raphaela Toussaint was the third Rider player to finish with double-figures, ending the game with 12 points. Everyone was clicking from passing to defense.

“It felt good to know that … everybody was working together, that we weren’t allowing them to score and it lets you know we’re heading in the right direction,” Evans said. 

But with every game this season, there have been a few constants for the Broncs — win or lose. The Broncs were not grabbing offensive rebounds and still committed a fair amount of turnovers. Rider averages a touch over 16 turnovers per game and after 40 minutes of action against Siena it gave the ball away 25 times.

Firebaugh said all the team needed was to continue “coming to the ball and calling names,” to not turn the ball over so much.

Against Quinnipiac Rider went on a 13-0 run to begin the final quarter, tonight it was Siena going on the same scoring run in the third quarter. The Broncs scored seven points and lacked the surge it had to start the game.

“We just came out tired,” Evans said. “We knew we needed to pick it up, bring up the energy.”

Another change made to the starting lineup was junior forward Anna Ekertsedt replacing junior center Victoria Toomey. It was the first time Toomey did not start since her freshman year in the 2019-2020 season.

“They just both give us totally different looks,” Milligan said. “Tonight was a good night to give Anna that shot in there with [Siena forward Selena] Philoxy … Anna is a bit longer, leaner Vic is more of a back-to-the-basket, Anna likes to face up.”

The move caught Evans by surprise “a little” but liked how Ekerstedt stepped up in her starting role and “did what needed to be done.”

Ekerstedt’s first-career start ended with four points, two rebounds, two blocks and a steal.

Rider has 10 days off before it faces Niagara on its home floor on Dec 30 at 7 p.m.

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