By Carlos Toro
The women’s basketball team nearly achieved history, but a strong fourth-quarter rally in its regular season finale against Fairfield fell just short, preventing the program from winning its first ever MAAC conference regular season championship.
Rider ended the 2016-17 regular season with a win on Feb. 24 against Niagara and a road loss to Fairfield, finishing second in the MAAC.
Even with the loss, Head Coach Lynn Milligan said she is proud of what the team has accomplished so far.
“[Being the No. 2 seed in the MAAC Tournament] shows our consistency throughout the MAAC season,” Milligan said. “We’re proud of the way we’ve been able to get the two seed for a while and not drop down and have to battle back. We started the MAAC season strongly and finished it that way.”
The Broncs started the game against Fairfield in impressive fashion, holding the Stags to just five points in the first quarter.
Fairfield then opened the second quarter with a 17-5 scoring run thanks to its inside scoring. The Stags outscored the Broncs 14-8 in the paint in the second quarter, but Rider closed the gap between the two teams late when a layup from senior guard Taylor Wentzel and a free throw from sophomore guard Lexi Posset cut the deficit to just three points at halftime.
After the break, Fairfield scored on a layup to get a five-point lead, but freshman guard Stella Johnson and senior center Julia Duggan led the charge on a 7-0 scoring run to retake the lead with less than six minutes remaining.
Fairfield then ended the quarter scoring nine unanswered points to get the lead for the final time.
Rider never retook the lead, but came as close as it could to doing so in the final minutes of the game. With 33 seconds remaining, Duggan converted a three-point play to cut the Stags’ lead to just two points, but did not convert another shot as the Broncs lost 53-49.
Johnson led the Broncs with 17 points and nine rebounds in the game, finishing one rebound short of her second career double-double. Duggan finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the contest.
Before the game against Fairfield, Rider had its Senior Day against Niagara. The Broncs were led by Duggan, who had a double-double in the win against the Purple Eagles. She led the Broncs with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Feb. 24 win.
Niagara made the first 12 minutes of the game competitive, but a 16-0 Bronc run in the final seven minutes of the first half ended the chances for a competitive second half. Rider held a double-digit lead throughout the second half, with its lead being as high as 26 late in the fourth quarter.
The Broncs had another strong defensive performance against the Purple Eagles, holding them to just 36 percent shooting from the field, causing 17 turnovers.
Regardless of the outcome in the game against Fairfield, Rider was already locked into the No. 2 seed in the MAAC Tournament because Quinnipiac owns the first-place tiebreaker over the Broncs as Quinnipiac swept the regular season series against Rider.
Rider has a first-round bye in the conference tournament, and will face the winner of the Monmouth vs. Manhattan game in the quarterfinals on March 3. The Broncs won all four games against Monmouth and Manhattan.
Milligan said having a first-round bye is a huge help to the team, but the team also has to keep doing what the team has been doing in terms of preparation to keep the advantage.
“Going to the MAAC Tournament with a first-round bye is new for us,” Milligan said. “It’s uncharted waters for us, but we’re excited for this and we’re going to try and keep doing our same routine.”