By Dylan Manfre
There is no doubt that having the nation’s leading scorer, an emerging star point guard, one of the most consistent shooters in the conference and a 14-game win streak puts the women’s basketball team in a great position going forward.
Rider sits on top of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) with a 16-2 record and is a perfect 10-0 in conference games. Although Quinnipiac no longer has its intimidation factor of 52-straight victories in regular-season MAAC games, the Broncs might be conjuring up some intimidation of their own.
Head Coach Lynn Milligan does not want opposing teams to fear Rider when it appears on the schedule — she wants them to respect her team.
“I just want to be respected by everybody,” Milligan said. “For everybody to respect what we do and how hard our kids work. We respect all of our opponents. The league may not look the way it normally looks but it’s certainly the grind and the competitiveness and the talent level hasn’t changed — it really hasn’t. There’s been a look about the MAAC like I said that may be different.”
That “look” is probably referencing Quinnipaic’s historic streak which Iona ended in the conference opener on Jan. 2.
People around the conference knew 2019-2020 was going to be tough for the Bobcats since they graduated a handful of players who paved the way to three-straight appearances to the NCAA Tournament.
All eyes were on the Broncs when they hosted Quinnipiac on national television on date and low-and-behold, Milligan checked a box off on her coaching bucket list: beat Quinnipiac, which happened to be the first time Rider ever defeated them too.
Along the way, there were teams who gave the Broncs a tough time, yet they prevailed. Multiple teams caused Rider to get into foul trouble and it became problematic even if the team will not admit it. There were times when the offense did not click so well.
In the four games prior to the Marist contest, senior guard Stella Johnson was 3-for-20 from long range. Magically she managed to still put up ridiculous scoring numbers, but the nation’s leading scorer said the confidence in her shot wavered.
“I don’t think I was shooting it with much confidence,” Johnson said after the Canisius game. “I try to [get shots up] before every game we play away just to get a feel of the court and hoop so it’s just an every game routine for me.”
Johnson has since found the hot hand and shot 46% over the last six games. But if Johnson is not having the best game offensively, MAAC play showed the Broncs defense is unlike anything we have seen in previous years from this group. It has also shown us a glimpse of what the future might be like. Here’s a glimpse of Johnson’s best counterparts who have excelled in MAAC play.
For starters, senior guard Amari Johnson is a double-double machine and leads the conference with 13. Having a player of her ability to run straight in the paint and crash the boards is invaluable when other players are focused on boxing out.
“Just the pride shew’s taken in her rebounding … ,” Milligan said. “She’s rebounding like a beast. I mean serious rebounds, not like — oh this fell in my hands — no she’s going to get the ball, which is a big change for her. She’s got a better idea of where the ball is going.”
Amari Johnson has said on multiple occasions that rebounding is her favorite part of the game and it shows. She is the only player in the MAAC to average a double-double and is 10th in the nation in rebounds.
Stepping into the starting point guard role at the beginning of the season was no easy task but Milligan had no other option. Mobley has proven to be one of the MAAC’s best emerging guards and will be a big threat for her remaining time at Rider.
Mobley’s confidence and her basketball IQ has consistently improved during MAAC play. Against Marist, she hit three big 3-pointers, two when the shot clock dwindled down and one from 75-feet as time expired in the first half. They were well-defended, but intelligent shots, meaning she took the time to square up to the hoop and not just chuck the ball in the air.
She finished that game with her first career double-double of 11 points, 10 assists and was 4-of-9 from the field. Mobley also sets up her teammates well and ranks second in the MAAC in assists behind Marist’s Grace Vander Weide.
Farve is one of the most consistent players in the MAAC. Rider caught a big break after she only missed the season opener at Princeton with her ankle injury, which, looking back on it, Rider probably would not have won anyway and the game does not even matter too much anymore.
Milligan was not in any rush to get Farve back in the starting lineup but once she did, the Broncs have not lost.
In the most recent four-game stretch Farve has shot just over 66% from the field. She went an astounding 8-for-10 from the field against Niagara and in all but one of the conference games she has finished with double digits.
The Schedule Ahead
The Broncs are halfway to 20-0 and look to be a lock for the No. 1 seed in March’s MAAC tournament and with many things going their way, it would take a lot to derail this group.
Facing Quinnipiac on its home floor Feb. 20 will be tougher than hosting them at Alumni Gym but Milligan said the team actually likes playing on the road.
“Anytime you’re in conference play, you have to win some at home and steal some on the road,” Milligan said. “We’ve done a really good job protecting our home floor, we’ve obviously stolen some on the road and we have to continue that mentality. We’re a pretty good road team. There’s a schedule when you’re on the road that’s different when you’re on campus. There’s less distractions, we actually like it.”
The Broncs pulled away from Canisius late in the game in their first meeting but face them again on Feb. 29. Two days earlier, Rider travels to Fairfield who they only defeated by eight on Jan. 28.
If Rider continues to play as they have been, an NCAA tournament berth may be on the horizon.
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