By Dylan Manfre and Shaun Chornobroff
With two games remaining on the schedule, the women’s basketball team cleared a hurdle in its case to win its first-ever regular-season conference title.
Rider at Fairfield, Feb. 27
It does not come as surprising to senior guard Stella Johnson that games in late February are always a little tougher, especially on the road. Getting a 68-60 win over Fairfield showed this team has a lot of “grit” when their opponents may be slacking.
“Everyone is at the end of the season so everyone is getting tired… so I think it’s a really good away game for us and a really good win for the team,” Stella Johnson said.
The Stags made things exceptionally tough when they erased an 18-point Rider lead after they were outscored 22-7 at the end of the first quarter.
The previous game for Fairfield saw the Stags get blown out by 30, so for them to erase a double-digit lead probably was not on the original scouting report.
“I think in the first quarter, defensively, we were playing with our instincts and playing… really well,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said. “In the second quarter we were trying to guess a little bit too much and they made some shots. If we don’t get stops, they’re running back in zone [defense] and our pace is going to be a little bit slower. We were making twos and they were making threes, unfortunately.”
Reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Rookie of the Year Lou Lopez-Senechal, along with teammate Katie Armstrong, were the main culprits in the comeback effort for Fairfield. It is no surprise that those two are players Rider did not want to get the hot hand.
Lopez-Senechal finished with 21 points and hit a deep 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter which brought her team within six, 66-60.
Armstrong finished with 15 points in 38 minutes of action, though she was rendered scoreless throughout the second half.
Senior forward Lea Favre finished with 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting for Rider and looked like the consistent player Milligan has been accustomed to seeing. Farve has led the MAAC in field goal percentage a majority of the 2019-20 season.
The Broncs got yet another surge from starting point guard Amanda Mobley who tied her career-high of 18 points, 11 of which came at the free throw line, another career high for the sophomore.
Rider vs. Canisius, Feb. 29
For the second time in her collegiate career, Stella Johnson recorded a triple double in a blow-out victory over Metro-Atlantic Athletic (MAAC) Conference bottom feeders Canisius.
Stella Johnson holds two of the three triple doubles in program history, with the previous one occurring on Nov. 17 of last season in a win against Mount St. Mary’s.
Stella Johnson, who has been the leading scorer in the NCAA at 24.2 points per game a majority of the season, scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds to go along with a career high 12 assists.
TRIPLE-DOUBLE!!! Stella grabs her 10th rebound, giving her 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. It's her 2nd career triple-double. #GoBroncs #maAChoops20 #BroncsToTheBoardwalk pic.twitter.com/DyQ8eqOMhe— Rider Women’s Basketball (@RiderWBB) February 29, 2020
On her tenth rebound that secured the triple-double, Rider’s entire bench erupted in a loud cheer for its senior captain.
Despite her performance, Stella Johnson was all business after the game.
“It was cool, I always appreciate the love I receive from my teammates,” Stella Johnson said of her performance. “It was a good feeling, but that’s it.”
Stella Johnson was one of many stars during Feb. 29’s win.
Senior guard Amari Johnson shot 60% from the field for the second straight game and recorded her conference-leading 15th double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Rider also found dominance in the frontcourt with the duo of Farve and junior forward Daija Moses.
Head Coach Lynn Milligan goes with Daija Moses over Aubre Johnson in the starting group today. First time Moses started since Nov. 23. #MAACHoops— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) February 29, 2020
Favre tied her career high 24 points, which she had done twice previously in her career. She credited her performance to her teammates feeding her the ball.
“I mean it’s pretty easy when you have Stella [Johnson] driving in and passing you the ball and you just finish wide open,” Favre said through a laugh. “It was just finding the right openings, the right cuts and putting the ball in the basket.”
Moses ran with the first-team starters for the first time since Nov. 23 and scored a career-high 13 points in addition to her four rebounds and three assists.
Milligan spoke highly of Moses’ performance.
“I thought Dajia [Moses] did a great job,” Milligan said. “When we can play small with Lea [Favre] and Dajia we can be a little more versatile on the defensive end, so we thought Dajia did a good job with that.”
Moses started in place of senior center Aubre Johnson, who only played four minutes in the game.
It was the first game Aubre Johnson had not started this season, but Milligan said the center was fine and just being “preserved.”
Rider continues its postseason push on Mar. 5 when it takes on Saint Peter’s at Alumni Gym.
Saint Peter’s stunned the Broncs handing them their first MAAC loss of the year on their home floor, 67-56 on Fen. 6.
If Rider and Marist win their final two games, multiple tiebreaker scenarios can play out depending on how other MAAC teams perform. Fairfield, Quinnipiac, Iona and Siena could finish between the fourth and seventh seeds.
Rider and Marist have both swept Quinnipiac and the Broncs have swept Iona and Siena, which Marist has a chance to match with games against Iona on March. 5 and Siena on March. 7.
Regardless of Marist’s outcomes against the Gaels and the Saints, Rider swept its regular-season series with Fairfield, which Marist split.
With Rider’s success against Fairfield, all roads point to the Broncs owning the first-seed tiebreaker should they match the Red Foxes’ record.
If they get the No. 1 seed, the Broncs’ first game would be March 11 against the winner of the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds.
Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on the women’s basketball team.