Women's College Basketball
#5 Niagara University 59, #4 Rider University 54
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
SPRINGFIELD, Mass.--One of the most successful Rider women's basketball seasons in recent history came to an end in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference quarterfinals as the Broncs lost to fifth seed Niagara University on Friday afternoon.
The tournament took place at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.
"We are obviously disappointed with today's outcome," said head coach Lynn Milligan, who completed her sixth season at Rider. "I thought Niagara played a great game and I thought they did a terrific job defensively on us."
Trailing 57-54 and after a Niagara (15-15) turnover with 14.2 seconds remaining, Rider had a chance to tie the game but the final shot was blocked and the Purple Eagles made both free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining for the final score. Niagara was 17 for 19 from the free throw line.
"We were running a simple box play with all three guards," Milligan said about the last play. "Sironda thought she had a good look and it wound up not being the look she needed and the shot was blocked. She is a senior and wanted to take that last shot."
Trailing 43-26 with 9:58 left, Rider went on a 12-0 run, four points by junior MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)) and three points each by sophomore Emily Fazzini (Wayne, Pa./Archbishop Carroll) and senior Caitlin Bopp (Baltimore, Md./Inst. of Notre Dame) as the Broncs got to within 43-38 with 7:44 left.
"We are going to battle for 40 minutes," said Milligan who has seen her team make several epic comebacks including overcoming a 16-point deficit in the final six minutes of regulation during an overtime win at Loyola. "That's what we do. We're going to battle back and we've won this year quite a bit doing that. We found our nitch but it came a little too late."
Needing 27 points to become the 19th Rider player to reach 1,000 in her career, McKenzie, a First Team All-MAAC honoree, finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds, her 14th 'double-double' of the season and the 26th of her career. McKenzie enters her senior season with 995 points and 787 rebounds with her rebound total fifth highest all-time at Rider.
Niagara responded by scoring nine of the next 12 points as the Purple Eagles pushed their lead back to 11, 52-41 with 3:40 left.
The Purple Eagles were led by 15 points and nine rebounds from Meghan McGuinness and 14 points from All-MAAC first teamer Lauren Gatto
"Gatto made two jumpers in the middle of the second half that were huge," Milligan said. "They were big time shots."
Trailing 57-48, Rider used two three-point plays by McKenzie for a 6-0 run to get to within three (57-54) with 51.6 seconds left.
Niagara opened the game on a 5-1 run, with Rider's only point a free throw by McKenzie at the 18:05 mark.
A three-pointer by senior Sironda Chambers (Wilmington, Del.) allowed the Broncs to close to within 5-4 and a three-pointer by Fazzini tied the score at 7-7 with 16:23 left in the opening half. Chambers finished with 14 points, two assists and a steal in 35 minutes, playing her final game as a Bronc.
Fazzini, a MAAC All-Academic honoree, finished with six points and four rebounds in 32 minutes.
The Purple Eagles responded with a 5-0 run, opening up a 12-7 lead 5:18 into the contest.
Bopp made a layup, cutting the Niagara lead to 14-12 with 10:40 left in the first half and she finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds for the 26th 'double-double' of her career. A Third Team All-MAAC honoree, Bopp graduates as Rider's second all-time rebounder with 925.
"Offensively, we got a little stagnant," Milligan said. "We tried to force some things but credit Niagara's defense for causing that."
Niagara scored nine of the next 10 points and held Rider without a field goal for over eight minutes as the Purple Eagles opened up a 23-13 lead with 2:58 remaining before halftime.
McKenzie hit a jumper and followed with two free throws as Rider closed to within 23-17 with 2:16 left in the opening half.
McKenzie then scored with 25 seconds left before the half as the Broncs cut the Purple Eagle lead to 25-19 at intermission.
Niagara opened the second half on an 8-0 run as the Purple Eagles opened up a 33-19 lead with 16:52 left.
Rider was held without a field goal and to only three free throws, two by Chambers, in the first 6:23 of the second half as Niagara maintained a 13-point lead, 35-22.
A layup by graduate-student Carleigh Brown (Philadelphia, Pa./Nazareth Academy) cut the Purple Eagle lead to 11 (35-24) with 12:26 left.
With her 14 minute effort off the bench, C. Brown, a MAAC All-Academic honoree, tied the all-time career mark for games played with 119, held by Sarah Homan (2007-10).
Niagara responded with a 6-0 run, pushing its lead to a game-high 17 with 10:47 left in the contest.
Rider was held to 16 field goals, shooting 27.6 percent from the field.
Rider finished the MAAC regular season in fourth place, tying its highest MAAC win total in 16 seasons with 10. The Broncs won 15 games during the 2012-13 season, their most under Milligan and the highest win total since a 16-12 record during the 1994-95 season.
"This is a disappointing end to the season," Milligan said. "We aren't going to allow this one game to define the steps we took as a program this year."
This was the 37th meeting between Rider and Niagara with the Purple Eagles winning for the 22nd time overall and third time this season. The Purple Eagles won 62-58 in Niagara Univ., N.Y. and 64-59 in Lawrenceville.
This was Rider's fifth time in the MAAC quarterfinals.
This is the third time in 16 seasons that Niagara has eliminated Rider from the MAAC playoffs.
14 of Rider's 30 games this season were decided by seven or less points, including all three against Niagara.
This is Niagara's third time advancing to the MAAC semifinals in the last four seasons and the Purple Eagles will face defending MAAC champion Marist College on Sunday at 11:30am. The opening semifinal will be Siena College against Iona College at 9:30am.
Rider returns 10 letterwinners for 2013-14 and will also have the services of junior transfer Lashay Banks (Philadelphia, Pa./Prep Charter).