by Rob Rose
ALBANY, N.Y. — Despite another second-half surge after a slow start, the women’s basketball team was eliminated in the MAAC Tournament semifinals by Marist, 62-52, on March 10.
Rider never led in the game, but erased a 15-point deficit early in the fourth quarter. The Broncs needed another dominant third quarter performance like they had in the quarterfinals against Iona to get back in the game.
“We were right there when we needed to be, but we didn’t pull through,” said junior guard Stella Johnson. “All season we’ve been slow in the first quarter and we need to fix that next season.”
After she was held to five points on 2-for-7 shooting in the first, Johnson, the 2019 MAAC Player of the Year, came alive in the second half. She scored 19 of her game-high 24 points after break and finished the game with four rebounds and two assists.
The Broncs relied too heavily on Johnson, senior guard Lexi Posset and junior forward Lea Favre for offense. The trio scored 47 of the team’s 52 points and despite her strong performance, Johnson was slowed down by the Red Foxes’ game plan to get the ball out of her hands as much as possible.
“If I’m tired, I push through for my team because I don’t want to go home,” said Johnson. “I don’t really concentrate on being tired. I’m focused on the game, and getting that next score, deflection, steal [or] rebound.”
Trailing by nine with one minute left in the game, Rider unleashed its full-court press and Marist struggled to handle it. While trapped on the sideline, Marist’s Grace Vander Weide was called for an unsportsmanlike foul after she swung her elbow into the face of junior forward Amari Johnson.
Stella Johnson hit a pair of free throws to cut the lead to five, but missed a layup that could’ve made it a one-possession game with 41 seconds left. The Red Foxes hit two free throws on the ensuing possession and pushed their advantage up to seven with 32.4 seconds remaining.
The Red Foxes finished the game 5-for-7 from the while the Broncs went 1-for-7 as Marist increased its lead back to double digits at the final buzzer.
“Once we tied the game up, we couldn’t get that big shot to fall,” said Head Coach Lynn Milligan.
Marist was without its second-leading scorer, Alana Gilmer who averaged 15.6 points per game this season, due to an illness. Gilbert dressed for the game, but sat at the end of the bench with a water bottle nearby the entire game after spending the night battling a stomach issue.
Like their quarterfinal game, the Broncs got out to another slow start. The Red Foxes led, 12-5, after the first quarter as the Broncs were 2-for-14 from the field and 0-for-7 from beyond the arc.
A 7-0 run by Marist midway through the second quarter forced a Rider timeout with five minutes remaining trailing, 24-10. Prior to the timeout by Milligan, the Broncs were 4-for-21 (19 percent) from the field and struggled to establish any offense.
The Red Foxes went scoreless and turned the ball over three times in the final 2:18 of the half and the Broncs cut the deficit to 10 as they headed to the locker room down, 29-19.
The Broncs outscored the Red Foxes, 17-10, in the third quarter to trim the deficit to three heading into the final quarter. Rider shot 5-for-9 on 3-pointers in the third quarter and Johnson had 11 points.
Rider tied the game 39-39, on a free throw by Stella Johnson with 8:47 left in the contest. The teams traded baskets in a back-and-forth game early in the fourth quarter.
With game tied, 45-45, Marist went on a 9-0 spurt to create some separation. Over the same period, Rider went 1-for-8 from the field as the Red Foxes locked down Johnson.
Marist advanced to the MAAC title game to play defending-champion Quinnipiac, in a rematch of last year’s championship game.
Follow Rob Rose on Twitter.