Rider unable to contain Fairfield star Lopez-Senechal in loss

By Dylan Manfre

Rider women’s basketball’s injury bug is still alive as the Broncs had six players out on Jan. 8 for its game against Fairfield. But Rider looked banged up as a whole in a 62-44 loss at Alumni Gym.

Junior guard Maya Hyacienth is one of the injured players and has now missed the last nine games with a hyperextended knee. Head Coach Lynn Milligan said last season that Hyacienth is one of the team’s fastest players and will typically match up against the opponent’s best player. 

Against Fairfield that is Preseason Player of the Year, senior Lou Lopez-Senechal, so the big question heading into the game was who was going to guard her. A few players attempted to slow her down and stop her dangerous Euro-step. Rider had an arms-length separating it from Lopez-Senechal at all times. 

She finished the game with 27 points on 11-for-22 shooting and was 4-for-8 from deep.

“She showed why she’s the best kid in the league there’s no question about that,” Milligan said. “I thought [senior guard Lenaejha Evans’] speed was good on her, I thought [junior guard Jessika Schiffer’s] strength was good on her, I thought [sophomore forward Raphaela Toussaint’s] length was good on her. We want to try to give her as many looks as possible, but if she gets open, she’s making it.”

“They will hit shots”

Rider held a slim 11-10 lead after the first quarter and Lopez-Senechal missed a 3-pointer as time expired. The Broncs contained Fairfield well as guard Rachel Hakes brought the ball up and struggled to make a pass.

Assistant Coach Steve Harney told the team “They’re not hitting shots right now, but they will,” in the huddle in between quarters. The Stags shot 25% from the field in the opening quarter simply because shots from players not named Lopez-Senechal did not fall. Lopez-Senechal was responsible for 18 of Fairfield’s 25 points at halftime

Rider did its best to defend the Fairfield attack. Junior guard Jessika Schiffer led a half-court trap on Hakes the second her red and white shoes crossed midcourt. Fairfield contested many of Schiffer’s and Rider’s attempts as the Broncs hit five shots in the second quarter. By halftime, Schiffer was 0-for-4 from the field with three assists, however, she did finish the game with a career-high seven rebounds.

Defense was a continued theme in the third quarter as the two teams combined for five field goals at the media timeout. Fairfield did manage to achieve a double-digit lead on multiple occasions. That is when Lopez-Senechal scored most of her points and found her touch from long range and around the paint.

The area that Rider needed to keep a bit of an eye on though were the corners. Those spots were consistently open throughout the game.

“It was kind of hard considering you had Lou at the wing … so it was hard for us to go back and forth, ‘Do we stop her or do we stop the shooter in the corner?’” Sophomore guard Makayla Firebaugh said. 

Where’s the net?

Even though the Broncs trailed for a majority of the second half, their biggest struggle was shots not falling. Rider was 5-for-12 in the third quarter. Senior guard Lenaejha Evans among other players did not seem to have the usual shooting touch they are accustomed to.

“We had shots, good shots, here and there, but some shots weren’t falling for us,” Evans said. “I think we got frustrated with it, I know I did myself, but just try to move on from that.”

Evans was 2-for-7 on the day heading into the final 10 minutes. Firebaugh was 2-for-9 and ended the game with six points.

However, Rider’s bench was able to find the net quite a bit. Junior forward Victoria Toomey finished with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting and freshman forward Emily Strunk added a bucket too.

Looking forward 

Rider has faced the top three Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) teams in Quinnipiac, Manhattan and Fairfield now. Getting the big guns out of the way early might bode well for the Broncs since Milligan said she hopes to “peak” in late February.

“You know who you have to beat,” Milligan said. “If you’re going by preseason rankings … those are the three best teams in the league. I thought we played well in all three of them, I thought we played good enough to win in two of them — I’m not sure if we played good enough to win tonight.”

Evans said she sees that peak Milligan is talking about happening soon and attributed the bench contributions to giving them a needed boost.

Rider enters a stretch of four games in eight days beginning with Canisius on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. It’s followed by a home-and-home with Niagara followed by the second meeting of the season against Siena on Jan. 20.

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