By Dylan Manfre
Stella Johnson does not need to prove her basketball skills to anyone.
Of all the insurmountable scoring outings the senior guard has had in her illustrious four-year run, she may have orchestrated the best weekend stretch of her entire Rider career on Nov. 22 and 23 and it was not even close.
Johnson torched Lipscomb and North Florida over the two-day Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)/Atlantic Sun (ASUN) Challenge and scored a combined total of 80 points that included 41 points vs. Lipscomb, which is now Rider’s single-game scoring record.
BREAKING: Stella Johnson’s 41-point performance today sets a new single-game scoring record. The previous record was 37 points. #MAACHoops— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) November 23, 2019
The previous single-game scoring record was 37 set by Nancy Carroll and MyNeshia McKenzie.
In the third week of the season, Johnson has ascended from seventh place, to fourth and now to the top spot in the entire nation at 28.8 points per game. At the end of Rider’s 81-76 win over Lipscomb, Johnson scoring average was 30.8 points per game.
Down three points with 2:22 remaining in regulation against Lipscomb, Johnson threaded the needle in for a layup and then hit a three-pointer giving the Broncs the momentum they searched for all game. The buckets were part of Johnson’s 18 fourth-quarter points.
Lipscomb, which had four wins in the 2018-2019 season, gave Rider a run for its money in the first ever meeting between the two schools. The contest featured 17 lead changes.
In the opening quarter, freshmen guards Jalyn Holcomb and Casey Collier helped the Bison end the first quarter on a 12-4 run which spanned four minutes. All 12 points were scored by Holcomb and Collier who shot a combined 5-for-7 from the field and 2-for-2 from long range.
“I just thought that we didn’t have the discipline early in the game on the defensive end… it took us a little bit of time to get our feet underneath us and clamp down and get the stops we needed,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said.
Holcomb torched the Broncs in the second quarter and kept her team on Rider’s heels. A pump fake created space on the right side of the court for her to hit a deep three pointer giving her team a 10-point lead with 5:25 left in the first half. Lipscomb held the lead for a total of 13:09 of the opening 20 minutes.
“I wasn’t happy with our defensive effort in the first half to be honest with you,” Milligan said. “We talked about it at halftime and made a couple adjustments to get ourselves back on track.”
Rider committed six fouls in the second quarter and it translated to Lipscomb shooting 4 of 5 from the free throw line. The Bison ended the game making 20 of 23 from the charity stripe.
When Johnson was on the bench with two fouls early on, sophomore guard Amanda Mobley stepped up and led the offense. She had six points in the first half, which included one three pointer in the second quarter that helped Rider pull to within two points at halftime.
“Her floor leadership was terrific,” Milligan said. “She’s really been building every game and keeping our pace where it needs to be. She is really starting to understand the ‘why’ in things and that shows in her being more confident.”
Johnson agreed that her relationship with her new starting point guard is only going up from here.
“I knew she was going to be ok,” Johnson said. “She’s doing a great job. She’s young but I know she’s going to have a great career.”
Both teams came out of halftime looking for a breakthrough as there were 15 lead changes in the third quarter alone.
Lipscomb held a 10-point lead midway through the final quarter before Johnson hit and three pointer and freshman guard from the United Kingdom Maya Hyacienth scored her first collegiate points; a three pointer which Milligan seemed to think she got fouled on.
Against Xavier, Millgan said that the team did not have the best sample size of a scouting report to work off of being that it was Rider’s first time playing the Musketeers. Now facing Lipscomb for the first time, she said that she does not know if she expected the game to go as it did.
She described it as a well-rounded game and “probably the most exciting [of the season.]”
Johnson followed up her career performance by scoring 39 of her team’s 70 points in a 10-point loss to North Florida en route to being named the MAAC/ASUN Challenge MVP.
North Florida held the Broncs to their second fewest points in an opening quarter all season, 11, as the two teams traded buckets for the first 10 minutes.
Neither team got the upper hand in the first half as the largest lead of the half was a four-point lead by North Florida with under a minute left in the first quarter.
Although Rider kept the game close for a majority of the first half, Johnson said communication is the key for the Broncs not getting into deep holes.
“Coach preaches it everyday,” Johnson said. “[Against Lipscomb] we communicated on switches and today we didn’t do that as a team so that’s the real key for everything.”
The Ospreys took their biggest lead of the half, five points, after Janesha Green hit a 15-foot jump shot with 3:09 left in the second quarter but the game went into halftime in favor of the Ospreys 29-28.
The Broncs shot 28% in the first half but outrebounded North Florida 24-18.
North Florida capitalized on Riders play in the final period outscoring them 31-22. It was able to pull away at the six minute mark and turn a three-point lead into as much as 12.
Foul trouble plagued the Broncs against North Florida. Over the two-day tournament, Rider committed 44 personal fouls.
“For me, it’s just knowing that someone is coming to get me and I need to be smart on the offensive end because that is where most of my fouls come from,” she said.
After a lengthy time away from game action, Rider returns to Alumni Gym on Dec. 7 to take on La Salle with tipoff set for 2 p.m.
Rider’s Dec. 7 game against La Salle will air on ESPN3 at 2 p.m.
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