By Austin Ferguson
Entering Dec. 18, Rider and Iona’s women’s basketball teams entered winless.
By the end of the night, Iona walked away victorious by a 56-41 score.
Both defenses were strong in the game, but Iona rattled off multiple runs throughout the contest behind Olivia Vezaldenos, who finished ahead of all scorers with 16 points. On defense, Gaels guard Juana Camilion was the anchor, recording eight steals in Iona’s first win of the season.
“We had some breakdowns at the wrong time,” Rider Head Coach Lynn Milligan said. “We just have to make sure that we stay strong on our principles and how we want to defend them.”
In the middle of the first quarter, junior guard Amanda Mobley, Rider’s leading returning scorer, left the game after landing awkwardly on her left ankle. According to Milligan, it is unclear if Mobley will be available to play on Dec. 18. Sophomore guard Sophia DeMauro took a bulk of the minutes at point guard in her place and finished with five points on 2-of-3 shooting.
Rider’s offense could not get into a prolonged rhythm without Mobley, with none of its players scoring double figures. Freshman guard Makayla Firebaugh led the Broncs in points with nine on 4-of-10 shooting.
“[Mobley has been out] before, and we just needed our other point guards to step up like they have previously, and I think they did,” Firebaugh said.
Rider’s other active point guard, junior Lenaejha Evans, finished with eight points and a game-high seven rebounds on 3-of-10 shooting.
The Broncs also struggled to take care of the ball, committing 28 turnovers in its seventh loss of the season and allowing 31 points off of those giveaways.
“There were so many kinds of [turnovers],” Milligan said. “Some of them were unforced, some of them were against Iona’s press [defense], some were just bad decisions. We’ve got to make sure that the ones take care of the turnovers we can control.”
The grit of both teams early on would not indicate the winless records on either side. Defense was the name of the game in the opening period as both teams forced four turnovers in the first five minutes of the contest, though Iona’s rebounding advantage allowed it to hold onto a 10-8 lead through the end of the first quarter.
Iona took control of the game in the second quarter with an 18-3 run off the back of a quartet of Gaels threes, including two from Vezaldenos.
“We let the shooters get free a couple of times on flare screens, and we would go under it instead of over it,” Milligan said. “It’s those kinds of things that we have to do less and less in terms of mistakes on defense.”
After a three from Firebaugh and a mini 5-0 run from Iona, the Broncs took a timeout and slowed the pace once again, even getting a half-ending 6-1 swing in their favor to push Iona’s 18-point lead down to 12 and trailing 34-22 at halftime.
With Mobley out early, Rider’s freshmen starters, freshman forward Raphaela Toussaint and Firebaugh, were the only Broncs with multiple field goals in the first half, each with a pair and five points at the half.
On Iona’s side of the ball, a 16-4 advantage on points off of turnovers contributed most to its second-quarter run and large first-half lead.
Rider’s defense was operating on all cylinders to start the second half, holding the Gaels scoreless for the first seven minutes of the second half. The Broncs managed seven points in that span, though Iona answered back with a 10-2 run of its own to end the third quarter up 44-31. All of the Gaels’ points in the quarter were scored by Vezaldenos, who hit two threes and two other buckets in the frame.
Iona was able to keep its distance in the fourth quarter to coast into a 15 point victory, its first win of the season.
Moving into the Broncs’ next matchup with Iona, Milligan is hoping the offense will adjust its tempo to keep up with the Gaels.
Milligan said, “We got some good looks at the basket, but we missed a lot of easy shots. We get a little tentative on offense, so I would really like to see us just go, really get after it on the offensive end. If we play as well as we did on the defensive end but limit those mistakes, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
Firebaugh felt that being able to hold on longer on defense would also give the Broncs more opportunities on the scoring end.
“Coach [Milligan] has been on us since day one about defense,” Firebaugh said. “That’s what we’ve been practing, to become a 30-second team on defense. Doing that creates a better environment for us.”
Rider will take on the Gaels again on Dec. 19 at 6 p.m., still on the hunt for its first win of the year.