By Jake Tiger
Before they took the court in their home rematch with Canisius on Jan. 12, the Rider women’s basketball team broke down their pregame huddle with the same, program-defining chant they recite before every game: “One-two-three–heart. Four-five-six–soul.”
The heart and soul that has become synonymous with the Broncs was on full display in their first home win of the regular season, taking down the Griffins in a hard-fought, 61-56 grind of a victory.
“I think we came in with the right mindset today, and it’s all about mindset,” said Head Coach Lynn Milligan. “It’s not about the opponent, it’s not about where, it’s not about all that. It’s about the mindset that we have when we walk on the floor. I thought our mindset … was exactly where it needed to be.”
The win was of particular importance to Rider and its morale, having lost back-to-back Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) matchups in frustrating fashion. In the losses, the Broncs were a combined 11-of-47 on three-pointers, a shot that was supposed to be their specialty.
In just a few minutes against the Griffins, Rider had seemingly cracked the lid on the basket, connecting on their first three triples and vaulting to an early 11-0 lead.
Canisius wisely took a timeout to quell Rider’s momentum, while also dialing up a punishing run of its own. After the stoppage, the Griffins answered back with a 17-7 run, leaving Rider with a mere 18-17 lead by quarter’s end.
The Griffins’ resurgence was fueled by 10 first-quarter points from graduate student guard Vannessa Garrelts; someone the Broncs were all-too-familiar with. In their previous meeting on Dec. 17, Garrelts scored a career-high 22 points in a Canisius win, and after one quarter on Jan. 12, it looked like more of the same.
Garrelts didn’t score again until late into the fourth quarter, and finished the game with 13 points.
“We knew we had to contain [Garrelts],” said Milligan. “We let her get loose a couple times [at Canisius], and she made some big shots. She’s a great player. … I thought we did a really good job trying to keep her a little more east-to-west this time than we did up there.”
While the Broncs subdued Garrelts’ scoring, they were having similar offensive struggles. After starting the game a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, the Broncs shooting crashed back down to familiar depths, only sinking three of their next 16 attempts.
It was clear Rider needed to look elsewhere for points, or else it would suffer a third consecutive misfire.
“When we know our threes aren’t falling, typically in the past we just kept shooting them,” said junior forward Makayla Firebaugh. “In today’s game, we realized [we had] the inside game: get to the rim, attack and get fouls.”
Of Rider’s 61 points, 30 were scored in the paint and 13 came from free throws. The Broncs had found a way to win.
Three players hit double-digits in the victory, Firebaugh leading the way with a game-high 16 points, including five in the game’s final three minutes.
Graduate student guard Amanda Mobley was a key node in Rider’s attack as always, providing 10 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
“It’s nice to win at home. It’s been a minute,” said Milligan. “That was as close to a 40-minute game as we’ve played in a while.”
Finally with some momentum, Rider looks to complete its defense of Alumni Gym on Jan. 14 with a game against second-place Niagara. The game begins at 2 p.m. and will be streamed on ESPN+.