By Dylan Manfre
Wins are wins no matter how painstakingly hard Rider makes it and the Broncs got two in its stretch of three games in eight days.
Win number one
Rider entered its NJIT matchup coming off of a well-played game against Columbia where it only lost by three. The Broncs earned their first win last season against NJIT and did so again against the Highlanders on Dec. 1 which ended with a 64-59 win at Alumni Gym.
The Broncs had great flow and continuity through a majority of the first quarter, despite some questionable foul calls.
Rider played some quality defense in the second quarter but had to deal with NJIT’s 6-foot-4 center Kimi Evans. Rider responded by putting out a 6-foot-4 center of its own in, Sofie Bruintjes.
Bruintjes limited Evans in the paint in a way that Junior center Victoria Toomey couldn’t and held her scoreless for quite a bit of time.
“Vic’s probably the stronger of the three to hold her ground. [Bruintjes] being long and tall, I think bothered her a little bit and Anna being a little bit quicker,” Head Coach Lynn Milligan said. “So they can all do different things to hopefully disrupt.”
With under a minute left in the period, junior guard Jessika Schiffer, who had been in the starting lineup the last three games before Dec. 1, hit a 3-pointer putting Rider up 45-34.
“It was really big,” senior guard Lenaejha Evans said excitedly. “That was a big shot in a big moment and something that we really needed and it kept us going.”
At the final media timeout of the game, with 6:14 left on the clock, NJIT’s Ellyn Stoll helped pull the game within two. Rider was outscored 12-5 in the quarter and desperately needed a spark of offense to expand off of Schiffer’s 3-pointer.
Even though the game saw a tie, NJIT did not regain a lead. Sophomore forward Raphaela Toussaint who had 13 points and 11 rebounds enroute to being named MAAC Player of the Week on Dec. 6.
“We work on it constantly in practice and we’ve been building that mentality of keeping people in front of us and just playing team defense and relying on one another,” Toussaint said.
Down to the Buzzer
Rider makes it exceptionally difficult to win games given how the result of the first seven contests have gone.
Against NJIT, and on Dec. 4 against Army, opponents mounted double-digit comebacks in the final quarter. Yet, the Broncs were still able to finish the game against Army with a 59-57 win.
Army completed a 10-point comeback, and with one second left, Army’s Sabrina Hunter was fouled and scored. She intentionally missed the free throw, given the situation she had to, but then Hope Brown was fouled as the buzzer sounded.
A lengthy review followed from officials, but ultimately, the crew decided the foul occurred before the horn and sent Brown to the line for two foul shots, an opportunity to tie the game for Army, who was down 59-57.
Brown missed both free throws, and Rider won a game that saw some of its best and worst play of the non-conference slate.
“We’re in the middle of five games in an 11-day stretch,” Milligan said. “Nine kids out there busting their butts playing really hard, good defense.”
The Broncs trailed by four at halftime, but that was not glaring on the stat sheet. What jumped off the page was Rider’s lack of offensive rebounds, having only four after 20 minutes of action. Army, on the other hand, had 14.
Rider’s third quarter seemed to be where it played the most complete basketball, as it outscored Army 22-8 and held the Golden Knights to shoot just 2-for-16 from the field. Sophomore guard Makayla Firebaugh helped wash away the slight Army lead to begin the quarter and Rider ended it having its largest lead of the game, 49-39.
“I thought that was one of our better quarters of the year on both ends of the floor,” Milligan said. “I thought we executed extremely well, made some shots and thought we had some really big stops, caused some turnovers and took advantage of them.”
While Rider’s winning streak was nice, it was also short-lived after a 62-58 loss to Wagner on Dec. 7.
“[I’m] disappointed with our start, we put ourselves in a big hole early,” Milligan said. “Fought back like we do in the second half, but I don’t think we handled their pressure well early.”
Even though the Broncs lost by only four points, they did not come easy as they shot under 40% from the field. Lenaejha Evans had a career-high 23 points in the loss, and Toussaint and Schiffer each had 10 points on 3-for-7 shooting.
“I know there was a couple shots I could’ve made … but I was just focused on bringing the team back and getting everybody hyped up,” said Lenaejha Evans.
The Broncs had their fewest first-quarter point total of the year only netting eight points, but Rider was able to mount a second-half comeback as it has had to do multiple times this season.
Milligan chuckled and said of the second-half comeback, “Sometimes it just doesn’t workout that way. You’ve got to perform on the floor and get the production that we need and we just didn’t get it today.”
Rider’s next game will be against Navy on Dec. 12 after a four-day break from action.
The Broncs will surely look to prove that their recent success is more than just a mere hot streak.