NOTEBOOK: Recent losses beg more questions than answers
By Dylan Manfre
After Rider’s scrimmage against TCNJ on Nov. 3, women’s basketball Head Coach Lynn Milligan said the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) slate was going to be the most competitive in a while.
She was right. My goodness was she right.
Let’s fast forward to the midseason media call when all 11 women’s basketball coaches addressed reporters on Jan. 18. A common discussion was the “parity” of the conference showing how anybody can beat anybody.
Rider has not experienced that yet having lost its last four games.
Ninety-two is an anomaly
The Broncs scoring 92 points, as they did against Niagara on Jan. 15, will not happen again for a while. It seemed like they were turning a corner.
That thought left as fast as it came.
What followed was a one-point loss to Niagara, where Rider trailed for the last 19 seconds and a 38-point slap in the face to Siena on Jan. 20 which had Milligan saying, for the second time this season, “I didn’t have my team ready.”
Those 92 points were an anomaly and was the most Rider scored since 2014. As for Siena’s 82 points, it was the second time this season Rider allowed 80 plus.
“We made a promise in that locker room [after Penn State] that we would never give up 80 again, and we did,” Milligan said.
Rider committed 33 turnovers against Siena, and the whole experience had sophomore guard Makayla Firebaugh nearly mute as she looked at the iPhones placed on the media table recording her words.
“It’s an indescribable pain right now actually,” Firebaugh said.
After a week off …
Rider practiced three times before facing Monmouth on Jan. 27 and hosting Iona on Jan. 29.
The Broncs lost both games, but the first half against Monmouth gave a recognizable reflection of what Rider can be. It had a solid showing for the first 20 minutes but reverted to old mistakes in the second half.
The first quarter was a refresher for the Broncs based on their performance. They held a 17-12 lead after 10 minutes and only turned the ball over once. The Hawks’ main options of Belle Kranbuhl and Stella Clark shot a combined 3-of-11 from the field in the first half, and the game was tied at 23 at halftime.
Senior guard Amanda Mobley returned to the lineup after missing nine games with a foot injury, and her leadership is better served on the court rather than the bench. She was cheerful. Smiling and boasting a signature laugh as she did high-knees to adjacent sidelines.
“Amanda does a really good job of talking through everything,” junior center Victoria Toomey said. “She’s used to playing the position. She’s a very good leader, so with her on the court, I think things just flow.”
Milligan finally has some guard depth and could rotate players.
“It’s huge, particularly when you’re playing Thursday-Saturday [games],” Milligan said. “We need to make sure we get kids rest that need rest and be able to play when we need to play.”
Rider and Iona’s game was played under the fermented stench of the Broncs’ 38-point loss to Siena at Alumni Gym. It produced a theoretical lid on the basket and Rider not producing sustainable offense. It shot 16% from the field in its lowest-scoring first quarter all season and resulted in a 63-40 Gaels win.
One issue Firebaugh identified numerous times has been communication.
“I think that’s what we need to improve on,” Firebaugh said. “Part of that is my problem as well, I need to communicate 100% of the time on the floor and it’s a hard job to [do] but I’m doing my best.”
Rider did show improvement in probably its biggest plague all season: rebounding. It outrebounded Iona offensively which made Milligan happy.
She can also be happy about is the way Toomey has played off the bench as she has increased her points and rebounding averages.
“No matter if I’m starting or coming off the bench, my goal is to do whatever I can to help us be successful,” Toomey said.
So, what is the state of the team after losing four straight games, three of them by double-digits?
“They’re disappointed, obviously we are. We go into every game prepared and expecting to win,” Milligan said. “Those are the expectations that we have of this program, those are the expectations that won’t change based on anything.”