Stella Johnson helps Broncs bounce back

By Dylan Manfre

Alright Rider fans, pump the brakes and take a breather. 

Senior guard Stella Johnson is fine. And so is the women’s basketball team.

Johnson used a scooter to get around campus the past week solely as a precaution after sustaining an ankle injury by landing on the foot of a Manhattan player in the second quarter.

Head Coach Lynn Milligan said Johnson went through practice as usual throughout the week and it was not a concern she did not participate in every drill.

Rider at Quinnipiac, Feb. 20

Johnson played the full 40 minutes against Quinnipiac on Feb. 20 and scored 29 points in the process. 

She is never one to boast about achievements but with a made 3-pointer in the first quarter, Johnson eclipsed 2,000 career points. She finished the game with a team-high 29.

Rider defeated Quinnipiac earlier in the season and got the win that eluded Milligan’s teams her entire coaching career. A sweep of the series was a challenge for the Broncs, who defeated the Bobcats 68-62 on Feb. 20, but Quinnipiac did not go down easily — especially on its home floor.

All-Conference forward Paige Warful was held to 10 points, seven of which came from the free throw line. The Broncs held star guard Shaq Edwards, who did not play in the team’s first meeting this season, to three points.

Quinnipiac found no success from behind the arc, where it traditionally is exceptional from, as it could not convert any of its 10 attempts.

Stretches in late February of playing three games in a one-week span is tough on the team because every game is important.

“There’s going to be some interesting stuff that goes on the next couple weeks just based on what’s gone on already,” Milligan said. “We can’t worry about anybody else. We put our destiny in our own hands and that’s all you want.”

Rider vs. Iona, Feb. 22

Against Iona, Johnson became the only active player in NCAA Division I women’s college basketball to record 2,000 points, 700 rebounds, 400 assists and 300 steals. When she got her first assist of the fourth quarter.

Iona played with a healthy lineup, which was not the case in the first meeting between the two programs. Senior guard Morgan Rachu wore a charcoal gray brace on her left knee through warmups and during the game.

The Broncs pressured Iona to work for its points early on as it started the game going 1-of-8 from the field at the first-quarter media timeout.

Iona went on a 10-4 run and gained a two-point lead over Rider after the first 10 minutes of play and Johnson committed two fouls but stayed in the game.

Gaels sophomore guard Juana Camilion averages 13 points per game and kept the Gaels alive in the second quarter. She drained a deep 3-pointer with four seconds left on the shot clock to take a 21-20 lead into the locker room.

“I think you have to stay between her and the basket and make her take tough shots and be as off-balanced as possible,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said. “I thought Amanda [Mobley] was on her a little while, did a good job … I thought overall we kept her off balance a little bit with some different looks.”

It tied the second-lowest scoring output for the Broncs in the first half this season. The Broncs had 20 points at halftime against Saint Peter’s on Feb. 6 and were handed its first MAAC loss in the process.

When asked if she was concerned about the low production, Milligan bluntly said “No.”

“To be honest with you, I think we’re in sync more times than not,” she said. “I think sometimes it looks like you’re out of sync when you miss a shot or they are a bucket but if they score a bucket in a way that is not their comfort zone I still think we’re in sync.”

Johnson scored 13 of Rider’s 17 points coming out of halftime and immediately there was a change made on both ends of the floor. The adjustments got Rider its fourth straight win, 53-41, and showed signs things were back on track. 

“I think we just locked up. We were switching. I think we just trusted each other,” Johnson said. “The first and second quarter we weren’t sure what we were going to do. I think we were guessing what they were going to do and we actually need to watch what they’re going to do instead.”

Learning from the scouting report is important, however, it is not all the team should rely on. Johnson said they just need to focus on the game unfolding in front of them.

“We obviously play off instincts quite a bit but there’s some things on the scout that we want to try and take away,” Milligan said. “I thought we did a great job on the perimeter. There’s a couple [things] defensively we needed to do today, particularly on the perimeter, that I thought we did a great job on consistently throughout the whole game and then we amped it up in the fourth quarter.”

As the game went on Mobley continued to stay poised and confident in her shot. Mobley hit a pair of 3-pointers as the shot clock winded down much as she did against Marist earlier in the season.

“Just when the shot clock is running down you have to make a play,” said Mobley who finished with 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting. “Someone is going to be open or you’re going to be open so I think it’s just practice like we do game situations like “shot clock” in practice.”

She said those situations drill the team runs in practice help Mobley mentally slow the game down, which is exactly the objective of the drill.

Rider junior guard Daija Moses was ruled out of the game against Iona after she sustained an ankle and back injury in practice the day before. It took a toll on the defensive effort today as the Broncs gave up 14 first-half points in the paint.

The schedule ahead

Fairfield will be Rider’s next opponent, which it will face on the road on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. The Stags currently sit at 10-5 on the season.

MAAC standings

After Fairfield lost to Marist by 30 points on Feb. 25, Marist took a half-game lead of first place in the conference with two weeks left until the postseason tournament. The Broncs would have taken sole possession of first place had Fairfield won the game.

Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on the women’s basketball team.

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