By Shaun Chornobroff
After a steal and a free throw from freshman guard Maya Hyacienth secured a 70-66 victory over Siena, the women’s basketball team remained undefeated in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play.
The win improved the Broncs to 12-2 on the season. This is the first time Rider has started 12-2 since becoming a Division I program prior to the 1982-83 season.
The Broncs had a rough start as Siena raced out to a 12-5 lead in the first quarter. 3-pointers from senior guard Amari Johnson and sophomore guard Amanda Mobley changed the momentum. At the end of the first quarter the game was even at 17.
The second quarter was just as close as the first. Rider took a 35-34 lead after a 3-pointer from senior guard Lexi Stover but Siena guard Amari Anthony hit a floater at the buzzer to give the Saints a 36-35 lead at halftime.
Rider came into the game No. 16 in the country in opponent field goal percentage at 34.7% a game. Through the first half, Siena shot a staggering 48.1% from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc.
Rider only shot 35.8% from the field and 16.7% from long range in a first half where it struggled offensively.
After Siena scored the first basket of the second half, Rider went on a 9-1 run to give it a five-point lead. The Broncs continued to play well and received key baskets from freshman center Victoria Toomey and Stover in the third to give them the lead.
Senior guard Stella Johnson was credited with her fourth personal foul late in the third quarter and was subsequently substituted. Stella Johnson, the nation’s leading scorer, was averaging almost 28 points per game coming into the contest, but only had 10 points as Rider went into the fourth quarter up by four. Stella Johnson spoke highly of the depth on Rider’s roster after the game.
“Coach trusts a lot of people on this team and they came up in big spots,” said Stella Jonhson. “I know a couple of us got in foul trouble so people that normally aren’t used to this situation stepped up and they weren’t nervous and we trust and believe in them on the court.”
The fourth quarter opened up to an electrifying start as Mobley and Siena guard Sabrina Piper traded three-pointers. The game was set for an electrifying finish as Rider led 61-59 as the game went to a media timeout with almost five minutes left.
After some back and forth, a three-point play by Siena’s Margo Peterson cut Riders lead to 67-66 with 1:22 left to play.
Rider eventually extended its lead after Piper fouled out to put Mobley on the line where she pushed the lead to 69-66. After Siena missed a three-pointer and called a timeout, Hyacienth forced a turnover with only four seconds left in the game.
The guard followed the steal by nearly dribbling out the clock and nailing one of two foul shots to secure the win. Head Coach Lynn Milligan elaborated on her decision to put Maya in during a crucial situation.
“It’s not a fluke, Maya [Hyacienth] was in there strictly for defensive purposes and she was locked into what she had to do,” said Milligan. “We like her to be on the ball, to put pressure on the ball and I thought she did a really good job of getting her hand in there and then picking it up and dribbling that clock out.”
Siena did not score for the last 1:22 of the game — it was the second straight game Rider held its opponent scoreless late. Milligan talked highly of her team’s late-game performance.
“It was really solid. I thought our switches were on point, I thought we forced them outside the perimeter and away from the basket which was good,” Milligan said. “Maya [Hyacienth] came up with a great steal at the end, I thought our communication was really good. We stepped up in the last couple of minutes and got some really big stops.”
Rider is now 6-0 at home this season and in games decided by less than five points. Stella Johnson spoke highly of the team’s composure postgame.
“You can get nervous, but I think we showed that we have composure in four or five games now and I’m not getting that nervous anymore,” said Stella Johnson. “We know what we have to do, we know what we have to do when there’s like five seconds left, we just know time and score.”
Mobley led the team in scoring with 17 points in addition to her seven assists, four rebounds and three steals. Mobley downplayed her scoring contributions after the game simply saying “the opportunities came up and I took the shot.”
It was the first time Stella Johnson did not lead the team in scoring since a win over Wagner on Dec. 18.
Stella Johnson ended the game with a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Amari Johnson had her eighth double-double with 10 points to go along with 15 rebounds.
Rider is currently on a nine-game winning streak for the first time since the 2016-2017 season. The team will look to extend its winning streak to ten games when it goes to Buffalo, New York, to face Canisius on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.