Rider’s lead slips in final seconds against Niagara

A foul with five seconds left sent Niagara guard Maddy Yelle to the free-throw line. She hit the shot, sending the Niagara bench to cheer and jump and causing Rider’s bench to console its players.

The free throw put Niagara up 75-74 with seconds left on Jan. 18 at Alumni Gym. A missed heave from sophomore guard Makayla Firebaugh cemented the bitter loss.

By all accounts, this was a game Rider let slip away. Rider held a 16 point lead in the second quarter and largely maintained it until the final quarter. But with each point scored, it seemed that a turnover was committed.

Sixty turnovers were committed among both teams. Rider was responsible for 33.

“They were death turnovers,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said after a lengthy locker-room conversation. “They’re live-ball turnovers and live-ball turnovers, they’ll get you every time … for a team that relies on transition offense, you’re just giving them buckets.”

Firebaugh had not known the number until the postgame press conference.

“That’s insane,” she grimaced after a 31-point outing.

The turnovers began to snowball in a fourth-quarter that Milligan described as “lackadaisical”. Adding another layer with each errant pass. It was an ugly feeling.

“Your body language just goes ‘[sigh] another one?’ stuff like that. We gotta get out of that funk and quit beating on ourselves,” Firebaugh said.

Firebaugh called this loss “probably one of the worst ones so far.” It is easy to see why she felt that way after Rider scored 92, the most points in a single game since 2014, at Niagara on Jan. 16.

“Considering we beat them by 20-plus up there and then coming back knowing it was going to be a dog fight and then being up the amount we were … that’s frustrating,” said Firebaugh, the defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Co-Rookie of the Year said. 

Milligan is a proponent of finding the pieces that fit the puzzle of a game and it seems that lately, the missing piece is closing out games. Firebaugh knows it is one of the biggest issues facing the Broncs, as does Milligan.

“We’ve certainly been in this situation enough this year,” Milligan said. “But we’ve certainly been in enough situations this year where nothing should surprise us. It really comes down to executing the way we want to execute.”

Firebaugh had a career-high 31 points in the loss and sophomore forward Raphaela Toussaint had a double-double with 12 points and as many rebounds.

Rider plays its fourth game in a seven-day span on Jan. 20 against Siena, who it beat exactly one month prior, at 7 p.m. If Rider wins, it will be the first series win of the year.

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