By Dylan Manfre
The same Rider women’s basketball team that blew a 23-point lead to Manhattan nine days ago scored a 92-70 victory over Niagara. Ninety-two is no typo.
The Broncs’ offense was firing on all cylinders during the Jan. 15 contest. It was the first time Rider scored 90+ in seven years. The last time it happened was Feb. 6, 2014. Current Rider assistant coach MyNeshia McKenzie scored 37 points in an overtime victory against Iona.
Rider Head Coach Lynn Milligan said any win during Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play is a good win but snagging victories on the road is even better. This one felt really good and she was proud of the way her team executed the game plan.
“Niagara forces you to play at a fast pace. They press 94-feet and they never stop,” Milligan said. “They force you to play at a faster pace … the kids followed the game plan perfectly.”
This season the Broncs have been the team to give up leads late in the game. As this contest progressed the question became yet again if Rider could sustain it and play as a cohesive scoring unit.
The Broncs saw their biggest lead of the game, 33, in the third quarter. Niagara’s only lead was 2-0.
“We kept our foot on the gas,” Milligan said. “Even when we got a lead we didn’t slow down because we got a lead, we kept our same pace the entire game and that’s something Niagara forces you to do.”
They took full advantage of a lackadaisical Niagara defense that allowed a conference-worst 78 points per game. Midway through the second period, it was Lenaejha Evans putting on a show raising three fingers on her left hand after draining a 3-pointer.
That was a small microcosm of the senior guard’s 30-point career-high game. She made 12 of her 15 shots and was mobbed by smiling and laughing teammates and even cracked a smile as she checked out of the game.
“The energy was the main key,” Evans said. “Everything was just working for everybody.”
Evans knows this team is capable of sustaining leads throughout games even if they have been the ones to relinquish advantages time and time again. This game was an example of what can happen when everybody from the guards to the forwards is on the same page.
Four minutes into the game sophomore guard Makayla Firebaugh caught an elbow to the head on a drive to the basket. She was in the game to start the second half but sophomore guard Molly Lynch stepped up in her place and saw a lot of success.
Lynch had a season-high 24 minutes. Lynch’s buckets came at the right time in the first half and were perfect from the field at halftime. Lynch’s day ended with nine points and a team-high seven assists.
“I knew I had to come in and step up when [Makayla] went down,” Lynch said. “I’ve been in those positions before. I took the opportunity and did what I had to do for my team … I was [playing] off of adrenaline and energy from my teammates.”
Milligan thought the Rutgers Prep graduate played “terrific,” and that “she should be proud of herself.”
Rider’s forwards matched the strong play it received from the guards. Junior center Victoria Toomey had eight points and five rebounds off the bench. Sophomore center Sofie Bruintjes added four points. Junior forward Anna Ekerstedt contributed six points and was 3-for-3 from the field.
The Broncs may have been cruising on offense but so was Niagara when it came to converting points off turnovers. Rider turned the ball over 23 times and it was translated into 22 points for the Purple Eagles.
Offensive rebounds have are still a lingering issue for the Broncs and when asked if they are no longer prioritizing them since they had five to Niagara’s 15, Milligan said, “It’s a priority, it’s just not one of our strengths … it’s always something we want to get better at. It is what it is right now.”
Rider gets a three-day break before it plays Niagara at Alumni Gym on Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.