By Ben Smith
Explosive scorer senior Ali Heller was at it again Wednesday in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., scoring 26 points in 23 minutes of play as Rider (3-2) defeated St. Francis (1-5), 68-48.
“Ali was on fire,” junior Carleigh Brown said. “We just kept running plays where she was the main option and she didn’t let us down.”
Heller, last year’s MAAC 6th Player of the Year, converted six of 10 shots from 3-point range en route to setting career highs in both scoring and three-pointers made.
“Winning early in the season is good for our team and the confidence in which we do things,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said. “This team always works hard and prepares for games the same way, but having success is a belief in our process and a tangible, positive result.”
Rider began its game against St. Francis with a 4-0 run. All four points were scored by junior Sironda Chambers. Chambers finished with 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 29 minutes.
Rider scored early and strung together many runs in the first half. They went into the break with a 35-22 lead. Heller had 16 points at halftime.
“Ali had a terrific night at St. Francis,” Milligan said. “She is as good a shooter as you will see. When she is set and her teammates get her the ball in good spots she is tough to stop.”
Brown, who has played more minutes since junior Caitlin Bopp suffered a foot injury, finished the game with 10 points and added five rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes.
“With Caitlin still out, I just focus on doing what I have to,” Brown said. “[Caitlin] is a solid contributor to our team and I just tried to step up as best as I could.”
Rider’s bench outscored the Terriers’ 33-19 and held a 37-31 rebounding advantage, 14 of which came from the offensive glass as Rider earned its first road win of the season.
This is just the second time this season Rider has held an opponent to under 50 points.
“This team has high expectations for themselves so I think they will stay focused and help each other stay focused on what we need to do every day to get better,” Milligan said.
Since beginning the season 2-0, Rider has lost two of its past three games. Heller has stepped up to the challenge this season, shooting .571 (16-28) from behind the arc through five games this season, despite coming off the bench.
With the 20-point victory, the confidence is high as the Broncs now travel to Georgetown to take on the 20th-ranked Hoyas on Sunday.
Georgetown slipped in the ranks after dropping two games against Maryland (10) and LSU (21).
Georgetown will prove a good test for the offensive prowess of the Broncs as they play some of the best defense in the country.
The Hoyas came to Alumni Gym last season, defeating Rider by a score of 81-54.
Georgetown will be led by junior shooting guard Sugar Rodgers who recently set a career high for steals in a game with six. Rodgers can also drain the three, posting 26 points on 8-13 shooting from downtown in a 70-54 win against Coppin State (Md) on Wednesday.
“Sunday we get to play against a nationally ranked team,” Milligan said. “We look at that as an opportunity, so we will prepare like we always do and go and play Rider basketball and see what happens.”
Caitlin Bopp is not expected to play Sunday and will be hard to replace as a match-up for the Hoya’s 6’6” junior center Sydney Wilson, who has five blocks in five starts this season.
“Having Caitlin injured obviously affects our team, but that being said we have excellent post players in Carleigh Brown, MyNeshia McKenzie, Sarah Homan and Marritta Gillcrease, who will continue to step up and get the job done,” Milligan said.
Sunday’s game will be played in the McDonough Arena in Washington D.C. at 2 p.m.