By Carlos Toro
Amidst an unusually long road trip, the women’s basketball team defeated its first two conference opponents.
The Broncs (5-2, 2-0 MAAC) defeated Canisius on Dec. 2 and Niagara on Dec. 4, both games on the road, to start 2-0 in MAAC play for the first time in program history. The 5-2 start is the first time since the 1982-83 season the program had a start this strong after seven games.
Senior center Julia Duggan said the start is a welcome change to a team that only won eight games out of 30 played last season.
“It’s really nice to start 5-2 and going up to Canisius and Niagara and coming out with two wins,” Duggan said. “That trip can be hard because it is an eight-hour bus ride and there’s an eight-hour ride back.”
Rider’s game against Canisius (2-5, 1-1 MAAC) started with a closely contested first quarter. Rider’s six points came from three-point shots made by senior guard Taylor Wentzel and senior guard Robin Perkins. After the Broncs started the game with an 8-4 lead, Canisius took the lead with a 6-0 scoring run. Both teams then traded a couple of field goals, until Canisius took a 17-15 lead to end the first quarter.
The second quarter was similar to the first with each team having its share of the lead, but the Golden Griffins held their lead for the majority of the quarter. Free throws made by Hoskova and Julia Duggan and a three-point made by Hoskova as time expired gave the Broncs a 35-34 halftime lead.
Canisius responded in the third quarter by pushing the ball down in the paint, outscoring Rider 12-4 in the period, and eventually taking a slim 54-52 lead into the final quarter. After a layup from freshman guard Stella Johnson tied the game 54-54 with 9:21 remaining in the game, Canisius retook the lead for almost three minutes before Rider ran away with the lead with an 8-0 scoring run to have a 66-59 lead with a little more than three minutes remaining.
But the home team crept up on the Rider lead, eventually closing the deficit to just one point with 19 seconds remaining. Rider’s defense held on and the Broncs won the game 71-70 after Canisius sophomore forward Sara Hinriksdottir missed a three-point shot as time expired.
For the Broncs, there were a couple of noteworthy performances, with Hoskova and Johnson leading Rider with 18 points each. Rider shot 45 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc.
Rider then traveled to Niagara (3-4, 1-1 MAAC) and the first was a much easier affair than the first half against Canisius. The Broncs ran up the score for the first 20 minutes, winning the first quarter 22-12 and the second quarter 19-11. The Broncs shot 62 percent from the field in the first half while limiting the Purple Eagles to just 31 percent shooting.
The Broncs immediately jumped out to a lead, scoring the game’s first five points and 11 of the first 14, and never trailed. Perkins made her first six field goal attempts, including four from long range, to help Rider build the lead, which reached its highest point of the half (41-23) on a pair of her free throws with four seconds left in the period.
Niagara did win the third quarter 16-12, after Rider made only two field goals to start the second half. But the Broncs had their biggest quarter scoring-wise when they scored 25 to seal the game with an emphatic 78-58 win.
While Perkins had a lackluster performance against Canisius, the senior responded in a huge way, scoring a career-high 29 points while adding five rebounds and making five out of six three point shots. Duggan nearly had another double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds. Hoskova had a busy game in the charity stripes, making 11 of 13 free throw attempts for the game.
With the two conference wins, Rider swept its annual trip through western New York and is now only one of two teams that have yet to lose a MAAC game, joining Quinnipiac as not only one of the lone unbeaten MAAC teams, but also one of the only teams to have an overall winning record. All teams in the conference have played at least seven games this season.
“It feels good,” Duggan said. “Nobody thought that we would do well so it feels good to say that we have been playing well. Nobody thought we would beat Princeton and nobody thought we would have a good record in the MAAC. I think we have a well diversed team this year where we think we are going to do pretty well in our conference.”
Part of the reason the Broncs have been doing so well is the triangle threat of Perkins, Johnson and Duggan. The trio, made of Rider’s three leading scorers, accounts for more than 60 percent of the Broncs’ points.
The emergence of Johnson as a threat on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball is another reason Rider has done so well. Johnson leads the team in steals with 25 and is tied for second on the team with 13 assists.
“She’s great,” Duggan said. “She can do everything. She can take it to the basket and shoot. On defense, she is like a silent killer. You never know when she is going to steal the ball from you. It’s crazy. She’s like a mini Kamila Hoskova and it’s great to have both of these players on the floor at the same time.”
Rider is also the third best defense in the MAAC in terms of scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. The Broncs have also made opponents commit a large number of turnovers (146), which started with the 21 turnovers Rider made Princeton commit in its season-opening road win on Nov. 11. Princeton won 23 games last season and made a trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past two seasons.
The Broncs continue their long road trip on Dec. 8 at Lehigh and conclude when they travel to Towson on Dec. 11 and Seton Hall on Dec. 18. Rider returns to Alumni Gym on Dec. 21 when it hosts St. Francis Brooklyn.
The team is playing with a chip on its shoulder after being picked 10th of 11 teams in the MAAC preseason rankings and the two MAAC wins provided a huge boost to the team’s morale.
“When you have confidence like we have from getting two wins like this against teams who were picked above you in the conferece, it feels really great,” Duggan said. “It’s a really big conference booster, especially with how we were picked in the preseason rankings.”