By Thomas Albano
The women’s basketball team avenged losses from earlier in this season by defeating Monmouth on the road on Feb. 13 and Manhattan at home on Feb. 15.
With these two wins, the Broncs (10-16, 7-9 MAAC) are now on a three-game winning streak, the first for the team since February 2014. The team is now 7-3 in its last 10 conference games, after starting MAAC play 0-6.
Senior guard Emily Fazzini attributes the turnaround to the team riding momentum since its first conference win.
“I think we just needed [that one conference win] just to get over that hump,” Fazzini said. “And after that we just took off and got the bad taste out of our mouths.”
In the game at West Long Branch, New Jersey, against Monmouth (6-10, 10-15 MAAC), both teams struggled to take early possession of the lead, with three ties and two lead changes taking place within the first 10 minutes of the game. Down 9-4 after the first four minutes, the Broncs went on a 15-2 run and were up by 8 with 10:34 left in the half. The Hawks, however, continued to apply pressure and cut into the lead. The first half ended with Rider leading 33-30.
The nature of this game continued into the second half, as every time the Broncs tried to pull away, Monmouth found a way to answer back. With 10:28 left in the game, however, Rider began a 16-3 run to extend the lead to a point that the Hawks could not catch up to. Junior guard Manon Pellet contributed 6 points to the run, while Fazzini had 5, as the Broncs went on to win the game 65-55.
Pellet finished the game with 7 points while making five out of six free throws, and Fazzini finished with 25 points and four rebounds while making four of her six three-point attempts. Rider went 6 for 12 from beyond the arc, while Monmouth was only 1 for 12.
While that contest had competitiveness with momentum shifts in the Broncs’ favor, the game on Feb. 15 when they hosted Manhattan (2-22, 1-14 MAAC) saw the team in complete control. Rider scored the first points of the game 19 seconds in with a 3-point shot from sophomore guard Robin Perkins and never relinquished the lead.
The first half saw plenty of defense from the Broncs, as senior forward Marritta Gillcrease had four blocks, and steals came from Pellet, Fazzini, sophomore center Julia Duggan and senior guard Lashay Banks. After Manhattan scored with 11:41 left and Rider scored with 10:31 left, there were no points scored by either side until Fazzini made two free throws with 3:29 remaining in the half. In fact, the Jaspers only scored once after the scoring drought. The half ended with Rider out in front 31-13.
The 13 points were the fewest the team has allowed in a half since Nov. 13, 2011, when Rider held Bucknell to just 7 in a 63-43 home victory.
Manhattan scored 4 points to start off the second half, trailing by 14, and that is the closest they got to the Broncs the entire 20 minutes. After those baskets, Rider continued its domination over the opposition. The game ended in a 65-40 Rider victory.
Gillcrease finished the game with a career-high 12 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals. In addition, Pellet had 10 assists, tying a career-high, and three steals, and Fazzini ended her game with 22 points.
Milligan was very pleased with her team’s work against the Jaspers.
“I thought it was a very good defensive performance today, particularly in the first half,” Milligan said. “I thought we took a lot of Manhattan’s easy looks away early in the first half and offensively I felt our ball movement was terrific. And I think we stepped up and made some big shots.”
The team will now take its final road trip of the season — up to New York to take on Canisius (8-17, 6-10 MAAC) on Feb. 20 and Niagara (12-13, 8-8 MAAC) on Feb. 22. With the Broncs now having played six games in 15 days, Milligan feels this stretch and the defensive efforts of the team are what they need to keep momentum rolling and to prepare for the MAAC Tournament.
“Scoring 65 in back-to-back games — I’m not sure if we’ve done that all year,” Milligan said. “But when your defense is rolling, your offense tends to be a little bit better. We cannot wait to get on that bus to go to Buffalo. The games are intense and it’s two really difficult places to play, but with two weeks left in the season, to go up on the Buffalo trip and have the chance to give ourselves a good position for March is a great thing, and we can’t wait.”