By Dylan Manfre
Rider’s season opener against the Villanova Wildcats on Nov. 25 featured a much different team than the one it put out on the court 256 days ago during the conference tournament in March.
The roster turnover showed in Rider’s 70-37 loss on the opening day for the college basketball season — the team’s worst loss since its opening day game last year against Princeton.
Head Coach Lynn Milligan was satisfied with her team’s effort despite the lopsided score.
“The score is what it is but I like the shots we got,” Milligan said. “We didn’t make any shots. That was clear. … I think our biggest issue today was we just didn’t defend as well as I thought we were. We had too many breakdowns on the defensive side and that really cost us.”
Rider was tasked with replacing six seniors including Stella Johnson, the program’s best player who is now in the WNBA with the Washington Mystics, and Amari Johnson, the 2020 MAAC Defensive Player of the Year. The program brought in six new players to compensate.
Within the first 12 minutes alone, Milligan went three players deep into her bench after her team shot 2-for-11 in the opening quarter. Transfer guard Lenaejha Evans along with sophomore center Victoria Toomey and guard Maya Hyacienth each made their first career starts for the Broncs.
By the end of the game, every player on the roster saw time on the court and it was intentional.
“I think we can stay fresh that way,” Milligan said. “We’re used to having five or six kids play 30-plus minutes [and] I don’t anticipate that [happening].”
Throughout the game it was hard for Rider to find viable scoring options as junior guard Amanda Mobley has become the go-to option on offense and is expected to be the main floor general. Mobley averaged 9.2 points per game last season.
“I think last year playing with a bunch of seniors, I still have to be vocal, talking because I was the point guard,” Mobley said. “So this year I’m just being even more vocal and talking a little more and helping people know exactly what we can do.”
Mobley finished with 14 points and on 5-of-8 shooting. Eight other players contributed a basket.
Villanova went on multiple scoring runs, allowing it to get out to double digit leads throughout the first half, taking a 36-21 lead into halftime.
Credit Rider for keeping pace in the second quarter as the Broncs were only outscored 20-16 in the second quarter.
But there is the issue of how Rider planned to defend redshirt freshman guard Maddy Siegrist, who was the unanimous Big East Rookie of the Year last season. She was only held to single-digit scoring three times last season. Siegrist torched Rider for 28 points on 13-of-19 shooting and 10 rebounds.
“We had a couple good defensive plays on her and she was still able to make the bucket,” Milligan said. “We wanted to engage on her and try to jump a little bit of her touches as much as we could. She found some looks and you can’t leave her open. If you make a mistake on a switch on an X-out or something she’s going to make you pay.”
The Broncs needed scoring in the worst way as the Wildcat’s lead ballooned to 24 in the third quarter and 30 in the fourth.
They did not get any help in that regard from long distance as they went 0-for-10 from three-point range and were held to six points on 2-of-14 shooting in the third quarter after 11 missed layups. Since it was Rider’s first game, Milligan was not too concerned.
“Being game one and [in] the circumstances that we’re under, we got to grow from it,” Milligan said. “And we’ll see how quickly we can make that growth.”
Rider’s next game and home opener is Nov. 28 at 2 p.m. against Drexel.
Follow Dylan Manfre for the latest on Rider women’s basketball.