By Dylan Manfre
After the women’s basketball team got its first-ever victory over Quinnipiac on Jan. 9, the conference slate does not get any friendlier for Rider who take on preseason favorite Marist on Jan. 16 — the team that bounced the Broncs in the conference semifinals in 2019.
Limiting Marsit’s “Big Three”
The Red Foxes can score. No doubt about it. A team that has scored 90-plus in its last three games and has three Preseason All-Conference players averaging double-figures, can torch a team from wherever. They will not go away easily.
Marsit started on a 24-0 run against Niagara en route to a 32-7 lead after 10 minutes on Jan. 11. The Red Foxes have the experienced talents of Grace Vander Weide, Rebekah Hand and Alana Gilmer — who was named Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association (MBWA) Division I Player of the Week on Jan. 14 — all of whom can make Rider uncomfortable early.
Gilmer ranks second in the conference at 22 points per game while Hand sits right behind her at 18 through four Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) games.
The Broncs cannot afford to come out of the locker room in the third quarter looking to correct mistakes because they need to be on their game from the start.
“We have to come out ready to play defense right from tip there’s no question about it,” Milligan said over the phone. “Hopefully we’ll be able to control the pace, slow their defense and turn it into our offense. They want their pace on offense and get the shots they need early. Something’s gotta give. … they’re very much in a rhythm right now there’s no doubt about that.”
The matchup between senior forward Lea Favre and Gilmer will also be something to keep an eye on. It is a battle of two of the most consistent players in the MAAC. Against Niagara, Gilmer broke Marist’s program record for field goal percentage with a minimum of eight shots, according to Marist Athletics. Gilmer was 9-for-9 with 18 points.
Rider is 7-0 with Favre in the starting lineup. She sits third in the MAAC shooting just under 60% from the field.
No Worries From Deep
Milligan also said she is not too concerned with how Rider has shot the 3-ball of late. Given the Broncs are in the basement MAAC in that category, making a mere 23% while Maris averages around 90 points per game and makes 41% from deep, one would think it could be worrisome.
“We took more [3-pointers] earlier in the season, now I think we’re just taking good shots,” Milligan said. “I’m fine with our 3-point production right now. I think we’re taking timely 3s, I don’t think we’re settling where I think earlier in the season and you could say ‘you know what we probably settled for some 3s we didn’t need to take. If it happens to be a 2 or happens to be a 3 doesn’t matter as long as it’s a great shot for us.”
The leading scorer in the nation in senior guard Stella Johnson, who averages 27.8 per game and has scored 80 points in MAAC play, has shockingly only connected on one of her last 13 3-pointers.
There is no question Rider needs to hit from behind the arc in order to compete with Marist.
Just under two hours after the Quinnipiac game ended freshman guards Sophia DeMauro and Maya Hyacienth, freshman forward Lauren Saa and freshman center Victoria Toomey changed into practice clothes and got shots up in the practice gym.
Proof! pic.twitter.com/o4Pt5N2uk3— Pam Durkin (@CoachPDurk) January 9, 2020
While DeMauro was the lone freshman who checked into the high-stakes match against the Bobcats, it was only to dribble out the clock. Impressed with how they have grown this season and bought into the program, Milligan said she is comfortable going deep into her bench if need be but there are times when she needs to rely on some experience.
“When their number is called they know to be ready. I’m comfortable with everybody going into the game at some point,” Milligan said. “A lot of it is circumstantial, day-to-day, game-to-game and that’s why those young guys know they have to be ready is their number is called.”
Undoubtedly this is the biggest game of the year for both programs. Even though the teams will meet once more before the conference tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the winner of tonight’s game sends a message to the rest of the conference.
Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on the women’s basketball team and updates from tonight’s game. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN+.