Rider splits Niagara series in regular season finale

By Dylan Manfre

The series against Niagara was a good example as to why the women’s basketball team is surprising. One day it will put forth a deflated effort and the next day it will flex the resilience it had in store in a split weekend with the Purple Eagles.

Game 1

Rider’s first game against Niagara had a good energy to it, but a late run pushed the Purple Eagles in front of the Broncs in a 65-59 win.

Rider held Niagara scoreless the final 2:21 of the opening quarter and held a one-point lead after 10 minutes. Feb. 13 was also Niagara’s first game since Jan. 23 because of pauses due to COVID-19.

“They came out well-rested and ready to go. We talked about it yesterday in practice. It’s game 22 for us, it’s game five for them,” Rider Head Coach Lynn Milligan said. “Every game they’re able to play right now until the end of the season is a blessing for them and I know that’s the way they’re treating it.”

Both teams kept the game close a majority of the first half and were separated by one point at the second media timeout. A cause for concern for Rider, however, was its foul trouble and turnovers. Two of the Broncs starters, freshman Raphaela Toussaint and junior guard Amanda Mobley, each had two fouls at halftime. Rider also accumulated 13 turnovers and was flustered by Niagara’s defense and was not as “in flow” as it could have been.

“We’ve got to make sure the shots we take are a little more in flow tomorrow and I think we’ll be fine,” Milligan said.

Rider relied heavily on the services of freshman star guard Makayla Firebaugh, who finished with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting. She has consistently been the Broncs’ go-to scoring option this season and contributed four points in a 10-2 Rider run late in the fourth quarter where it shot 4-of-5 from the field.

Firebaugh mentioned her communication can be improved as well as the team’s. She acknowledged and laughed saying she can do a “100%” better job at being more vocal.

“I think we have our moments where we all talk and then we have our moments when nobody talks and it’s complete silence,” Firebaugh said. “We’ve been trying to change that throughout the year but I think we just need to find consistency honestly.”

Game 2 Recap

Senior day did “not entirely” go the way Daija Moses wanted it to on Valentine’s Day. She ended her Alumni Gym career with a gritty win over Niagara and had two huge 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter to seal the 68-54 victory in the season finale.

My mindset was like ‘Alright it’s me,’ so I’m glad it’s me, but you still got to make them,” said Moses who finished with 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting and four rebounds.

Rider is one of the most surprising teams in the MAAC and game two against Niagara was a good example of why Milligan said “resilience is the word of the day.”

“We needed to regroup. We needed to start playing Rider basketball and not allow them to dictate the pace as much as they did particularly in that second quarter,” Milligan said.

Niagara dominated the first half and forced Rider to play sloppy basketball.

Maddy Yelle and Ally Haar lit Rider up during the second quarter to helpthe Purple Eagles score 10 unanswered points in 1:29 heading into the second media timeout. Even through this stretch, Niagara’s biggest lead was a manageable nine points.

This abysmal run prompted Milligan to swap out her entire starting five inserting the bench with 5:17 left in the first half. 

It was probably R-rated,” Milligan said on what was said in the huddle during the second media timeout. “ We had to take ownership of that. It wasn’t acceptable and we needed to own that.”

Sophomore guard Maya Hyacienth added the substitution was needed for the Broncs to really get back in the game.

At halftime, Milligan asked “if they were ready to play the way they were supposed to,” and the Broncs delivered.

Hyacienth led the charge coming out of halftime and pushed Rider on a 15-1 run to begin the third quarter. Rider also forced six Niagara turnovers in that span — something Niagara did quite often in the first half. It was capped with a 3-pointer at the buzzer from junior guard Amanda Mobley. Reminiscent of a similar shot she hit against Marist last year.

Rider outscored Niagara 27-12 in the third period, the most points it scored in a quarter all weekend. The Broncs made 11-of-15 shots, shot 66% from downtown and held Niagara to shoot just 28%.

The Broncs enter a 21 day pause of their own that is not related to COVID-19. After Canisius canceled the remainder of its season, the Niagara series became Rider’s series finale until the MAAC tournament on Mar. 8.

Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on the women’s basketball team.

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