Makayla Firebaugh helps give Rider back to back wins

By Dylan Manfre

A lot has changed in the 329 days since the women’s basketball team last played Monmouth. Last time these two teams met former Rider guard Amari Johnson rolled off a double screen and tapped in a layup at the buzzer to win the regular season championship.

After a scheduling change, Rider had Monmouth on its schedule instead of Marist, the league’s second best at (10-2, 8-2 MAAC). The Hawks were 0-6 before the Jan. 30 meeting and allowed opponents to score just over 65 points per game. It boded well for the Broncs in a in a 61-35 win. It is the first time this season Rider has won back to back games.

Makayla Firebaugh’s career-high 26 points in the game were the most by a Rider player this season. The freshman guard has been on a mission to get out a slight shooting funk but today she felt much like herself. Firebaugh had six of Rider’s 11 3-pointers and was 7-for-10 from the field.

Against Saint Peter’s on Jan. 16, Firebaugh had zero points in 30 minutes where she shot 0-for-11 from the field. Reflecting back on that game, she said she felt “irritated” and “agitated.” She has scored in double figures in the four games since.

“I just feel like I haven’t been playing to what my full potential was and I’ve had a couple off-games and I’ve been kind of getting out of that little, I guess, slump I was in and I eventually did,” Firebaugh said. “Recently I’ve been thinking a lot I feel when I shoot the ball and I think that’s why I haven’t had the highest percentage. But lately I’ve been shooting the ball without even thinking, [I’m] just confident in my shot [and] taking the shots I know I need to take.”

Head Coach Lynn Milligan pointed out that Firebaugh felt more like her normal self during the game.

“[Makayla] doesn’t play with any fear. She’s very confident in her abilities as a scorer,” Milligan said. “She has a scorer’s mentality which you like and we want. I think she came out today really shooting the ball well and looking for her shot.”

The Broncs’ success from long range was a key difference maker in maintaining the lead in the game, in particular the third quarter when they drained 5-for-5 and outscored Monmouth 23-8. Monmouth ended the game making 2 of 13 from deep. 

The third period has largely plagued Rider in the early part of the season so to find success during that stretch had Broncs head coach Lynn Milligan pleased that it was the other way around for once. The team might have finally found its sense of urgency that it has so desperately desired.

We’ve got to be locked in and try to win every single possession and I thought today that started with the defense,” Milligan said. “If you’re getting stops and stuff it obviously takes some pressure off the offense and you saw some really competent shooting from Maya [Hyacienth], from Amanda [Mobley], from Makayla, you know really because of our defense.”

Rider was down 12-5 at the first media timeout and both Firebaugh and Milligan pointed to that moment as a time when she really needed to turn things around after Monmouth “threw the first punch.”

“We were like ‘Wow we need to get it together,’ and then finally just locking in, doing what we’re told, what we practice,” Firebaugh said. “It just works.”

That right there is the sense of urgency Milligan has desired from her young team.

Rider will close out the series on Jan. 31 against Monmouth at 2 p.m.

Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on the women’s basketball team.

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