By Dylan Manfre
It seemed as if the women’s basketball team could have gotten its first conference victory on Jan. 9 heading into the game since it was playing a team who played its first game in nearly one month.
The Siena Saints have been one of the MAAC’s most beleaguered teams having been paused twice in the regular season due to coronavirus protocols. The same cannot be said for Rider, which has been fortunate enough to play all 12 of its regular season games. Despite the extensive gap, Siena exploited Rider’s youthfulness en route to its first MAAC win, 73-64.
In probably one of the most impressive defensive stretches Rider has had all season, it held the Saints scoreless for nearly a 10 minute span, the length of an entire quarter. The Broncs went on a 12-1 run and Siena went 0-for-13 dating back to the 3:27 mark of the third quarter. In the second half the Saints were limited to 22 points after scoring 51 in the first half.
“Obviously they made some shots but … we didn’t all of a sudden learn how to play defense at halftime,” said Rider Head Coach Lynn Milligan. ‘We know what we’re capable of, we just got to find a way to be more consistent with it … That consistency of the 40 minute game is just one of those things we’re still trying to find.”
While the Broncs were mounting a comeback, junior guard Lenaeja Evans helped cut the lead to as few as four points late in the fourth quarter. She managed to add seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in a five minute span. Perhaps more impressive, she played effectively with four fouls.
“When I got my fourth foul, the anger was building up,” said Evans who finished with 11 points. “I was mad about the fourth foul I got so I wanted to release the anger and put points on the board and help the team.”
Evans told me earlier last week that she doesn't feel like she's playing that well and doesn't feel like she's helping the team all that much.— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) January 9, 2021
She is having a sensational Q4 scoring seven points in the last five minutes.
Freshman guard Makayla Firebaugh and sophomore guard Maya Hyacienth paced the Broncs (1-11, 0-7 MAAC) throughout the opening quarter which saw the two teams tied at 19 apiece. Milligan was impressed with the play of the group and the effort they put forth.
“I was really happy that it was 19-19,” Milligan said. “I thought we did a really good job because I knew their adrenaline from being able to actually play a game was really going to come out early, and it did.”
As in most games this season, at least one quarter plagued the Broncs more than others. Milligan described it was the team “shooting themselves in the foot.” On Jan. 9, that was the second quarter.
Siena (1-2, 1-2 MAAC) was led by Rayshel Brown who helped the Saints jump out to a nine-point lead early. It seemed reminiscent of Rider’s game against Fairfield when the two teams traded buckets but the Broncs were never able to trim down their lead. Siena was 6-for-8 from the field at the second media timeout, up from its 37.5% for the field in the first quarter.
Halftime thoughts pic.twitter.com/aByctko1bq— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) January 9, 2021
Sophomore center Victoria Toomey had another good game for the Broncs with a career-high 11 points and seven rebounds. Toomey has been much more consistent this season and has felt good about her improvement.
“I definitely felt a lot more comfortable,” Toomey said. “I want to play at a level where I bring the same intensity every single game so [being consistent] has definitely been a big goal this year.”
Late in the first half, the Saints took full advantage of a wounded Broncs team after junior guard Amadna Mobely went down and was in clear pain holding her ankle. The Saints sparked a 11-2 run the last 3:07 of the half. Tobulayefa Watts had six of her eight first-half points while Brown and Young capped their halves off with 10 points.
Though Mobley returned to start the second half, Milligan gave guards Sophia DeMauro and Evans time off the bench. Freshman guard Molly Lynch also saw minutes off the bench testing Rider’s depth yet again.
“A lot of them can do a lot of different things, which is good,” Milligan said. “If we want to play zone, if we want to play man, if we want to go put a defensive lineup or an offensive lineup, we have players that we feel we can move around to those different spots and play those different roles.”
After Rider and Siena finish up the series on Jan. 10, the Broncs face probably their toughest stretch of the conference slate. They will face the No. 4, 3 and 5 teams in Saint Peter’s, Quinnipiac and Marist, all of which have at least two wins in MAAC play. Rider is still searching for its first.
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