By Carlos Toro
The women’s basketball team was trailing Saint Peter’s by two points with less than two seconds remaining on Jan. 28, days before Rider’s winter break ended. The Broncs’ hopes of victory rested on the shoulders of senior guard Robin Perkins.
As soon as Perkins threw the ball in the air, the entire crowd of more than 500 people at Alumni Gym went silent. When the ball hit nothing but the net through the basket, the entire gym erupted with cheers, as the Broncs capped off one of their closest wins of the season.
The Broncs can add the buzzer-beater win to their growing list of accomplishments made in the 2016-17 season.
Rider (15-6, 9-3 MAAC) defeated Saint Peter’s 47-46 on Jan. 28, thanks to the three-pointer made by Perkins as time expired.
Rider Head Coach Lynn Milligan said despite the team having a poor day offensively, the Broncs were able to play tight defense. The Broncs shot only 24 percent from the field against Saint Peter’s.
“When you’re shooting the ball like we have been for the game, you have to rely on your defense, and we’ve talked about that a lot throughout the year,” Milligan said. “We were fortunate to get that last possession and come out with the win.”
The first half was an uncharacteristically poor offensive showing for Rider. The Broncs only scored 14 points in the first 20 minutes of the game, shooting 6 of 32 field goals and missing all nine of their three-point shot attempts.
What kept the Broncs alive in the game was their outstanding defense and an offensive explosion in the third quarter. Trailing 19-14 at halftime, Rider scored 23 points in the third quarter to take a seven-point lead, its largest of the game, heading to the fourth quarter.
The Peacocks started creeping up on the Broncs’ lead, cutting the deficit to just one point with 6:18 remaining in the game, eventually tying up the game with 40 seconds remaining.
However, with the game locked at 44-44, senior guard Taylor Wentzel fouled Saint Peter’s sophomore guard Janelle Mullen. Mullen made both of her free throws with only 1.8 seconds remaining. The Broncs called a timeout after the second free throw was made. The final play saw Perkins grab the ensuing short inbound pass and hit a corner three while being defended and the Broncs won the game.
Perkins led all scorers with 17 points, with 16 of those points coming in the second half. Both senior center Julia Duggan and junior guard Kamila Hoskova each grabbed 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Stella Johnson scored six points and grabbed nine rebounds in the win against the Peacocks.
The game constantly shifted leads between the two teams. There were a total of eight lead changes and 10 ties in the contest. Milligan said the team was able to pick itself up, despite several Broncs having off days on the floor.
“We’ve been fortunate to not have a lot of nights like this, where the ball wasn’t going in. We liked our shot selection,” Milligan said. “The ball wasn’t going in, but we have talked about this practice throughout the year that if one of us doesn’t have a good game individually then it still falls on you to help out defensively, so it was really important for us to maintain our defensive intensity. You hold a team under 50 points, you assume you have an opportunity to win.”
Before Rider defeated Saint Peter’s in dramatic fashion, the Broncs hosted Manhattan (7-14, 3-9 MAAC) on Jan. 26. The Broncs struggled from the start, only scoring nine points in the first quarter and 24 in the first half. However, Rider was able to defend the ball well, holding Manhattan scoreless through its first 10 possessions in the game.
Rider then played a much more efficient second half, limiting the Jaspers to just 11 of 34 shooting from the field. The Broncs nearly made half of their shots as they scored 49 points in the closing 20 minutes.
In the final quarter, Rider opened things up with a 16-0 scoring run that saw the Broncs pull away, eventually locking up a 73-64 win.
Perkins scored 23 points while three other Broncs — Duggan, Hoskova and freshman guard Safie Tolusso — reached double digits.
The win against Saint Peter’s gave Rider its 15th win of the season, only the second time this has happened since Milligan took over as head coach. The Broncs have already clinched a winning record for the regular season.
Milligan said she liked the chemistry the team has built throughout the season. The Broncs were able to maintain their composure, according to Milligan, and make the small plays that ended up making a difference.
“We were fortunate enough to be able to grab those big rebounds in the fourth quarter, make some good plays and have some really good ‘I got your back’ type of plays,” Milligan said. “I can think of two that Stella made right off the bat where a [Saint Peter’s player] was wide open and fortunately she managed to tip the pass out of bounds and help reset our defense. It’s plays like those that don’t show up on the stat sheet that hold a team in check when we’re figuring things out.”
It’s been a major turnaround for a team that won eight games the year prior. Rider still has eight games remaining in the regular season and are in second place in the MAAC conference, only one game behind Quinnipiac (17-5, 10-2 MAAC). Earlier in the year, the Broncs started 5-2, their best start since the 1982-83 season.
Milligan also achieved a head coaching milestone this season, winning her 100th career game as the head coach at Rider, good for second most in the history of the program.
The Broncs were ranked by collegeinsider.com women’s mid-major national top 25 on Jan. 10. Over winter break, the Broncs broke their record for the longest scoring run in program history when they used a 24-0 run to defeat defending champion Iona on Jan. 2. Rider also snapped a 27-game losing streak against Marist on Jan. 12 with an emphatic 13-point road win. The win was the first for Rider in Poughkeepsie, New York, where the Red Foxes play, since January of 2002.
The Broncs will go up against Monmouth (10-10, 5-6 MAAC) on the road on Feb. 2 and then return home for a game against Siena (9-12, 8-4 MAAC) on Feb. 4. Rider already defeated Siena back on Jan. 8 with a 62-61 road win. The game against Monmouth will be broadcasted on ESPN3.
Perkins said Milligan described the month of February as “the most important month of the season” since the regular season ends and the Broncs will then have to prepare for the MAAC Tournament at the start of March.
“We definitely have to stay composed,” Perkins said. “We definitely have to stay together and play hard and depend on our defense.”