By Brandon Scalea
The women’s basketball team played its first game in the opening round of the preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), falling to Seton Hall 66-47 on Nov. 14.
Head Coach Lynn Milligan said the Pirates’ (2-1) style of play prevented the Broncs (0-1) from playing the game they wanted.
“Seton Hall did a good job throughout the game keeping us off balance,” Milligan said. “We have to do a better job taking care of the ball so that we can not only dictate pace, but play more to our strengths.”
Despite the large deficit, red-shirt junior guard Robin Perkins shone with 16 points and five rebounds.
Perkins, who sat out last season after transferring from St. Francis (Pa.), opened the scoring 1:03 into the game with a layup. Red-shirt junior guard Emily Fazzini joined the scoring after breaking a 2-2 tie just a minute and a half later.
Fazzini was playing her first game since Nov. 19, 2013, having spent the rest of last season on the injured list. She finished the game with two points, two assists and two rebounds.
Milligan thought Perkins and Fazzini really contributed to the positives coming from this game.
“I thought Emily and Robin as well as [junior guard] Taylor [Wentzel], who also missed last season, did a solid job,” Milligan said. “It takes time to get your game speed back and feel. The three of them are working very hard and you can see them getting more comfortable every day. I expect them to continue to grow and get better every game.”
After the bucket by Fazzini, the Pirates went on an 8-0 run. With 15:21 remaining in the first half, the Broncs trailed 10-4.
Perkins responded with another layup to give the Broncs some life, but Seton Hall responded with 10 unanswered points to extend the lead 20-6 midway through the opening half. Junior forward Tabatha Richardson-Smith, who finished with 19 points in the contest, led the Pirates.
Senior forward Marritta Gillcrease was able to hit a shot after Rider had been held scoreless for over seven minutes. Gillcrease was a top performer for the Broncs, finishing with 8 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes of action.
Seton Hall continued to control the first half after the field goal from Gillcrease, going on an 18-6 run to end the half. After the buzzer, the Pirates held a 38-14 lead. Rider committed 21 turnovers in the first half and 31 in the game, the most since committing 33 turnovers in a game against Lehigh back in 2010.
The Broncs played a much better second half, outscoring Seton Hall 33-28, with the first-half deficit too much to overcome. Freshman forward Jessie Wallace added a layup with 37 seconds to play to pull within 19, but the Broncs got no closer. Wallace finished her Rider debut with 2 points and six rebounds.
Sophomore center Julia Duggan, a preseason Third Team All-MAAC selection, finished with 2 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in 29 minutes of action. Duggan feels that with the role of representing Rider in the All-MAAC team, there comes the responsibility to prove herself.
“With this honor, there is really little margin for error for me, but no matter what, our goal is to win the MAAC,” Duggan said. “I’m part of a talented team and I have to stick with what I’ve done to get that spot.”
Thanks in large part to Duggan, the Broncs held the advantage in rebounds 44-35 in the game.
Rider’s biggest struggle in the game was the 3-point shooting, as the Broncs finished 0 for 8 from outside the perimeter for the first time since 2012. Seton Hall is now 9-0 all time against Rider.
Rider will play a pair of consolation games in the WNIT against Towson and Maryland before its first home game on Nov. 25 against Lafayette.
Milligan feels these games will be needed to get the team ready for the rest of the season.
“We have a big test this weekend playing back-to-back games on the road at Towson,” Milligan said. “I think it will help to continue to prepare us as we move forward with a very challenging schedule over the next few weeks.”