By Dylan Manfre
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Each time Rider played Iona during the regular season, its shooting was always suspect. What Head Coach Lynn Milligan saw in practice was not the product on the court.
Junior guard Jessika Schiffer’s 19 points were the only bright spots for Rider in its 74-58 loss to No. 9 Iona to open and end the Broncs’ Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament stay on March 8.
Rider’s weaknesses were showing as the game progressed. Careless turnovers complicated a potential comeback effort as Iona’s lead ballooned to 18 with under two minutes left in the third period. Every time Iona hit a big shot, Rider was pushed down further.
“Every time we got some momentum and made a run, they answered pretty quickly,” Milligan said.
Despite Iona’s dominance in the second half, the Broncs began the game well. They missed one shot through the first seven minutes of the opening quarter and held Iona to under 10 points in the same stretch. The Broncs proceeded to miss their next six shots but still took a 16-15 lead into the second quarter.
“I think we did get off to a hot start and I think then once they started hitting their shots, we just fell apart,” sophomore guard Makayla Firebaugh said.
Iona’s complement to All-MAAC Second Team guard Juana Camilion, who scored 21 points, was Shyan Mwai. The 5-foot-6 guard had her first 12 points all come in the second quarter and helped the Gaels to a 40-28 lead at the break, as the Gaels racked up a 25-point second quarter.
Milligan spoke about the “backbreakers” the team has which include giving opponents extra opportunities throughout the game and how they plagued Rider.
“We only got 49 shots at the basket today, they got 62,” Milligan said. “They got second chances on 50% of their makes. That’s not a good stat … when you’re not taking shots at the basket and you’re turning the ball over, it doesn’t really matter. That’s where we have to get better.”
Senior guard Lenaejha Evans had two points at halftime after missing her first four shots. The All-MAAC Third Team selection is someone Rider needed to hit shots to keep the game close. Evans finished the game with seven points on 1-of-10 shooting.
“She was definitely a focus for us,” Iona Head Coach Billi Chambers said of her plan for guarding Evans. “We wanted to make sure to stop her to disrupt their rhythm a little bit. We would send someone right to her to make sure we knew where she was and didn’t let her get going in transition to get her pull-up game going.”
Milligan called the rebounding woes the “Achilles’ heel” of the team saying it is about “want and desire.” Rider’s effort to defend Iona’s Ketsia Athias did not go over well as she finished the game with 12 points and 16 rebounds. Camilion ended with seven. That led to 32 points in the paint for Iona who held Rider to 16.
Rider’s quick exit of the tournament was a microcosm of its season. Even though it shot the ball decently in the opening-round game, flawed rebounding as well as handing opponents a plethora of opportunities, came back to haunt the Broncs again on the biggest stage.