Struggles see Rider fall to sixth seed at MAACs

By Matt Burrill

Women’s basketball made its yearly voyage to western New York this past weekend with hopes of coming back to Lawrenceville with the fifth seed and a first round bye in the upcoming MAAC tournament.

The weekend did not go as the Broncs (13-16, 9-11 MAAC) planned, falling to Niagara 68-60 on Feb. 28 and Canisius 66-63 on March 2.

“We are disappointed about our games in Buffalo, but we did some good things,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said.

Senior guard MyNeshia McKenzie put together a double-double, 24 points and 14 rebounds at Niagara (9-18, 8-11 MAAC).  Graduate guard Shereen Lightbourne added 12 points in the Broncs’ loss.

The loss comes in part to a first half which saw the Broncs struggle to find the bottom of the net. The team only shot 31% from the field in the half, and was out-rebounded by Niagara 22-13.

Rider managed to surge in the second half, which included a 14-2 run. However, it would not be enough, and the Broncs would lose 68-60.

At Canisius (13-16, 9-11 MAAC), McKenzie added another double-double, the 43rd of her career, accumulating 26 points and 11 rebounds. The Broncs fell in a game that was back and forth and featured five ties to go along with 10 lead changes.

After starting the month of February with a 3-0 record that included a marquee win over Iona, Rider finished its final six games of the regular season with a 1-5 record.

The rough patch has included injuries to the team’s original starting five. The most recent injury was to sophomore guard Mikal Johnson, who is out with a knee injury. Throughout the season, Johnson, the Broncs’ second leading scorer with 10.5 ppg., has provided strong contributions for Milligan and the team.

“We had to get used to playing without Mikal and readjust our lineups and rotations,” Milligan said.

With the MAAC tournament approaching, Milligan knows that she will have to rely on the play and guidance of her seniors, particularly MAAC Player of the Year candidate McKenzie, down the stretch.

“We will be looking for our seniors to lead us and for everyone to play their roles,” Milligan said.

After traveling nearly seven hours through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, the Broncs return home with the sixth overall seed in the MAAC tournament, one spot away from a first round bye.

With the sixth seed, the Broncs will be taking on 11th-seeded Saint Peter’s, a team the Broncs swept during the regular season. Tip-off is set for March 6 at 1:30 p.m. in Springfield, Mass.

“We are excited to get to Springfield and compete for a championship,” Milligan said. “Preparation is key for us, both physically and mentally; we are looking forward to a great week.”

Lightbourne remains positive in light of the recent struggles and expects the Broncs to play until the final buzzer.

“Unfortunately, this past weekend we came short of two victories,” she said. “On a positive note, we learned a lot about our team. We all have to step up and continue our journey.”

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