By Jake Tiger
On Jan. 14, the Niagara Purple Eagles landed in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, bringing one of the nation’s best defenses with them.
While Rider women’s basketball knew what it was up against, nothing could have prepared them for the sheer speed and predation of Niagara, with the Broncs committing a season-high 32 turnovers in the 67-55 defeat.
“They lead the nation in turnovers forced for a reason,” said Head Coach Lynn Milligan. “When we cut it to five, we needed to get a big bucket and we turned it over. … We made some mistakes that I think we’re better than.”
Rider strung together a respectable comeback effort in the second half, but in the end, the Broncs were no match for the endless wingspan of the Purple Eagle defense, as seemingly every dribble and pass had to evade a forest of greedy limbs.
“You always know going into the Niagara game that that’s their M.O., so we definitely prepared,” said senior center Victoria Toomey. “We shot ourselves in the foot from time to time and they like to speed you up, so we kind of started playing at their pace instead of ours. … But at the end of the day, those are things that we have to control.”
In all, Niagara picked off Rider 16 times, just a touch above its nation-leading season average of 15.5 steals per game.
Along with the turnovers, Rider continued a streak of disappointing shooting performances, going 3-of-17 from three against Niagara. In 2023, the Broncs are making 24.1% of their three-pointers, a substantial drop from their 33.8% efficiency before the new year.
“If we make threes, this is probably a different game,” said Milligan. “I thought a lot of those threes were wide open, and we didn’t make them.”
On a positive note, Rider has had success when straying away from the three lately, instead opting for a more sustainable, paint-focused scoring attack. The Broncs totaled 32 points in the paint against the Purple Eagles, marking their second straight game with at least 30 points down low.
“I think we’re more successful when we go inside-out,” said Toomey. “A lot of good things happen once we start to go inside … and then that kind of sucks the defense in and gives shooters more time to get their shots off.”
Leading the charge under the rim was junior forward Raphaela Toussaint, who scored 15 points in the second half en route to a game-high 21. Toussaint’s late turnaround came after a second quarter in which she missed multiple layups and was exploited on defense a number of times.
“Raphie wasn’t being as tough as we know that she can be in that first half, and you saw the difference,” said Milligan. “I’ve been saying this to Raphie since she was a freshman: ‘Raphie guards Raphie, no one else.’”
With the loss, Rider remains tenth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) standings, only placing above winless Saint Peter’s.
The Broncs next test comes on the road against the fearsome Iona Gaels, who rank first in the conference. The contest begins at 6 p.m. on Jan. 19, and will be streamed on ESPN3.