By Dylan Manfre
In a program-first, the women’s basketball team defeated Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) powerhouse and three-time defending champion Quinnipiac on Jan. 9.
Alumni Gym was sold out for the game that was nationally televised on ESPNU. “Kids Day” brought students from all over the area to fill the arena with an energized crowd — Head Coach Lynn Milligan said she thought the fans grew louder as the game went on.
Milligan’s observation makes sense since the game was played in front of 1,700 fans, the largest in women’s basketball history, according to Rider Athletics.
If this isn’t March Madness I don’t know what is. Truly an electric atmosphere as Rider goes for its first victory ever against Quinnipiac. pic.twitter.com/Q8IkoIoFtG— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) January 9, 2020
Even the MAAC championship trophy made its way to the lobby of the Student Recreation Center as it is on a traveling tour of all 11 MAAC schools.
But something was different now than in previous games against Quinnipiac.
The Bobcats walked onto the court dressed in their typical dark blue and gold warm-ups, with players putting up shots and coaches chatting on the sidelines — normal.
Quinnipiac entered the game without the intimidation factor of the 52-game winning streak it had amassed in conference games over two years. The Bobcats fell to Iona in their conference opener on Jan. 2. That is the difference.
Rider entered the game looking to extend its overall record to 10-2 with a win over the Bobcats— a victory that eluded Milligan since the series began in 2012.
After a dominant performance, Rider became just the second MAAC team to beat Quinnipiac since 2017 with a 75-59 win.
“We’ve worked long and hard to put ourselves in the top-tier of this conference,” Milligan said. “It’s an everyday effort and work habit and culture of our program that puts us in these situations where you’re in the same conversation as [Marist and Quinnipiac].”
While Rider never had a 52-game winning streak, it had its own intimidation factor — the leading scorer in the nation at 27.8 points per game, senior guard Stella Johnson.
A few weeks ago, senior guard Amari Johnson said Rider was the team to beat in the conference. Stella Johnson said the win over Quinnipiac puts a “target on our backs.”
“I think anyone that steps on the court with us is going to try and beat us as hard as they can,” said Stella Johnson, who finished with 25 points without hitting a 3-pointer.
Stella Johnson made multiple buckets preserving Rider’s lead in the second quarter. The Broncs jumped out to a five-point advantage thanks to falling layups from the senior guard, who admitted she knows she will get double-teamed almost immediately.
“I think it was a good team win and [Quinnipiac is] just like any other team we’re playing against,” Stella Johnson said.
Even after Rider senior guard Lexi Stover was called for a foul while boxing out Quinnipiac’s Jaden Ward, which Milligan was visibly angry at, Stella Johnson kept the momentum in her team’s favor and drove through worse traffic than New York City to convert another acrobatic layup.
Strong 3-point shooting helped the Bobcats jump out to an early lead, making 3-of-6 from behind the arc in the first quarter.
Sophomore guard Amanda Mobley, who took over the starting point guard role at the beginning of the season, was perfect from the field in the first quarter and shot 3-of-3 with a 3-pointer. She finished with 18 points and five assists.
Mobley and Stella Johnson were responsible for Rider’s first six points of the second half. Mobley’s court vision found senior forward Lea Favre, who ranks third in the MAAC in field goal percentage at just over 51%, wide open in the paint which was part of a 14-1 run spanning a majority of the third quarter.
“Every single day Amanda [Mobley] is growing and is becoming more confident, her teammates are becoming more confident in her and that was a growth process because it didn’t really start out that way,” said Milligan. “Amanda [Mobley] has really bought into the system and when she does that, people like Stella [Johnson] and Amari [Johnson] can really run off that. Her pace was terrific.”
Favre ended the game making 7-of-12 from the field for 15 points.
Mobley continued to find her teammates throughout the game, getting Favre involved as well as Amari Johnson and junior forward Daija Moses, who made a layup as time expired in the third quarter.
The Broncs held Quinnipiac to nine third-quarter points and a woeful 25% from the field.
Rider outscored Quinnipiac 23-9 in Q3 and held them to under 30% for the second straight quarter— Dylan Manfre (@Dylan_Manfre11) January 9, 2020
“It started with our defense. We came out of the locker room ready to defend and we tuned stops into points at the other end,” Milligan said. “We took advantage and made sure our scoring opportunities were there and made some big shots and we were able to hold strong on defense.”
Rider silenced Quinnipiac’s go-to options and limited Paige Warful, who had double-doubles in her previous two games, without a field goal. Shaq Edwards, the team’s leading scorer at 15.3 points per game was sidelined with a leg injury.
“We wanted to run some multiple screens, get them to go side to side a little bit,” Milligan said. “We really just wanted to be in attack mode.”
Rider improved to 10-0 when it holds opponents to under 50% — Quinnipiac shot 34% compared to the Broncs’ season-high of 54.8%.
The Broncs look for their eighth-straight win as they travel to pre-season favorite Marist on Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. Both teams hold an overall record of 10-2 and a conference mark of 3-0.
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