By Dylan Manfre
After dropping its first conference games to Saint Peter’s and Marist, the women’s basketball team is out of first place and searching for answers to its struggling performances.
Rider began its attempt at fixing its problems with three road games in seven days.
The Broncs were able to write their wrongs against Siena on Feb. 13 to begin the road trip. They turned the ball over less, fouled less and played like the squad fans have become accustomed to seeing this season in a 69-38 victory.
A big push for Rider was converting 28 Siena turnovers into 32 points. It helped bolster the lead to as many as 33 points throughout the game. Head Coach Lynn Milligan repeatedly said the Broncs’ intensity on defense translates into their offense.
“We always want to push the pace,” Milligan said. “We’re a diciplined transition team. We’re not a run-and-gun, chuck-it-at-the-basket [team], but we’re going to try and create transition opportunities for ourselves and Amanda does that really well, Stella does that really well, Lea runs the floor really hard, so we have a lot of people who can play that way.”
They held Siena to five points in the second quarter and took a 37-14 lead into intermission.
Senior guard Amari Johnson had yet another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, however, another big item to her stat line was the zero fouls.
No Rider player had more than three fouls in the game, which is a big sign of them turning things around.
Senior guard Stella Johnson mentioned that after they lost to Marist, the team did a bit of an identity check and players looked themselves in the mirror.
“We got a little comfortable in our 14-game win streak,” Stella Johnson said. “I think we’re back to being a humble team and walk on to every court being like ‘We have to earn this win every time.’ I think we’re back to being that kind of team.”
She also mentioned the trust in each other needed to be reestablished in order to connect on the court.
“We trusted each other and we have to know our scout,” Stella Johnson said. “I think that part of that got away the past few games so just everyone listening, making the switches [and] knowing the personnel are some of the details that cost us the past two games.”
The Siena matchup showcased the return of Rider’s defense. Against Manhattan on Feb. 15, it was the offense that caught back up to speed in a 55-50 win.
Senior forward Lea Favre, who leads the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in field goal percentage, shot 50% from the field, connecting on seven of her 14 attempts.
Rider is 15-0 when Farve shoots 50% or better, so having her convert easy layups down low in the paint is may just be what the Broncs need to be successful.
“Obviously Lea [Farve] is a big part of what we do,” Milligan said. “Her teammates get her the ball in really successful spots for her and nobody wants to make shots more than Lea. She gets very disappointed when she misses shots. But she’s going to keep taking them and we’re going to keep trying to put her in those successful spots.”
Stella Johnson said that it is players like Amari Johnson and Farve connecting on all cylinders that drive the team to be better.
“I feel like Amari [Johnson], Amanda [Mobley] and Lea [Farve], they’re really the backbone of this team and everyone that comes off the bench,” Stella Johnson said. “If we’re looking for another scorer or get that defensive stop or rebound … we expect everyone to make an impact.”
Early in the second quarter, Stella Johnson landed awkwardly on a Manhattan player’s foot and was taken out of the game to receive extra tape from the trainer.
She promptly returned to the game and led all scorers with 27 points.
“I shot a little floater and I didn’t think she let me land so I landed on her foot and twisted my ankle but [Athletic Trainer Gina Dain] wrapped me up quickly and I got back,” Stella Johnson said.
The Broncs will have five games remaining on their schedule after the conclusion of the current road trip against Quinnipiac, which they will face on Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. in Hamdon, Connecticut.
Milligan said it will be harder to beat the Bobcats on their home floor and always loves the challenge of coaching against her longtime friend Tricia Fabri.
“They’re playing really well, they’re young, obviously they’re well-coached and they have some great players,” Milligan said. “We’re going to have to go up there and be ready to battle. There’s no doubt about it. What I always respect about Trish [Fabri] is the culture of the program she’s built and the longevity of success she’s had. That’s not easy to do.”
Fabri was one of the multitudes of people who congratulated Milligan after she got her 163rd victory at Rider making her the all-time leader.
Milligan passed her former coach Eldon Price, who she referred to as a “second dad” and still keeps in touch with to this day.