Women’s College Basketball
Rider University 61, Central Connecticut State University 58
LAWRENCEVILLE—The Rider University women’s basketball team won its second game in a row and for the third in the last four outings with a come from behind 61-58 victory over Central Connecticut State University on Saturday afternoon in Alumni Gymnasium.
For Rider (4-5), senior MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)) had her 32nd career ‘double-double’ with 23 points and 12 rebounds, playing all 40 minutes.
McKenzie scored 18 of her game-high 23 points in the second half.
“The biggest difference is that we were more aggressive in the second half,” said head coach Lynn Milligan about overcoming a 12-point deficit. “We were more focused on our decision making and took better shots. That was really the only adjustment we made at the half.”
“The opening half, I was kind of out of it, McKenzie said. “That wasn’t me. The coaches got on me and impressed upon me that the team needed someone to step up. I played more of my game in the second half, giving the team energy, both offensively and defensively.”
Trailing 41-40, Rider went on a 7-0 run, two points each by McKenzie, sophomore Mikal Johnson (Manassas, Va./Osbourn) and freshman Julia Duggan (Marmora/Ocean City) as the Broncs took a 47-41 lead with 8:32 remaining.
Johnson finished with 13 points, two assists and a steal in 34 minutes of play with Duggan adding six points, seven rebounds and a block in 21 minutes off the bench.
“Mikal has really stepped up, embraced her role and is really making good decisions on the floor,” Milligan said.
Trailing 53-47, Central Connecticut (5-4) cut the Bronc lead to one with 3:49 left in the game with a 5-0 run, all five points by Jessica Babe but that was as close as the Blue Devils would get.
Babe finished with a ‘triple-double’, compiling 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists while adding four steals in 39 minutes of action.
Trailing 58-54, CCSU made a free throw and grabbed five offensive rebounds in a row before another foul shot cut the Bronc lead to 58-56 with 53 seconds remaining in the game.
“We bend but don’t break, it is what it is,” Milligan said about the team giving up the offensive rebounds but not giving up the lead. “We aren’t getting the box outs that we want but we are in the right spots and that is something we continue to work on. We do what we can to grind things out and today was no exception. Sometimes things are pretty and the way you draw it up and sometimes they are not.”
“Our young players really stayed composed, especially when they (CCSU) was getting all those rebounds on the offensive end of the floor,” McKenzie added. “Their composure was great and if you don’t look at the roster, you wouldn't know that they are freshmen and sophomores.”
CCSU held a 42-37 advantage on the glass, including out-rebounding Rider 18-8 on the offensive end of the floor.
Sophomore Manon Pellet (Marseille, France) made a clutch jumper with 24.9 seconds left, pushing Rider’s lead back to four, 60-56. The Blue Devils scored a layup with eight seconds left to cut Rider’s lead to 60-58 before Johnson made a free throw with six seconds remaining for the final score.
“We wanted to use some clock in that final possession,” Milligan said about Pellet’s shot. “It was a big shot and her teammates moved without the ball to get her a wide open look. We created an open shot for her and she made a clutch play to make it.”
Pellet finished with seven points and added two assists and two steals in 28 minutes.
“MyNeshia is going to give you what she gives you,” Milligan added. “But our supporting cast and being a team is what is going to help us win ball games. MyNeshia is confident in her teammates that as a group, we will get the job done.”
CCSU had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer but could not get off a shot before time expired.
“We made sure we were in the right defense,” Milligan said about the final play. “Obviously we needed to know where Babe was and that she was probably going to try to make the final play.”
Tied 5-5, CCSU went on a 6-0 run, opening up an early 11-5 lead, five minutes into the contest.
Leading 15-13, the Blue Devils used an 8-2 run to open up a 23-15 lead with 8:16 left in the opening half.
Leading 23-19, the Blue Devils scored eight of the last 11 points of the half and went into intermission with a 31-22 lead.
CCSU led 36-24 with 18:41 remaining in the game before Rider rallied with a 12-2 run, eight points by McKenzie, cutting the deficit to 38-36 with 14:25 left in the game.
Rider shot 53.8 percent in the second half and the Broncs went 21-48 from the field (43.8 percent) in the game.
CCSU shot 24-65 (36.9 percent) for the contest.
Also for Rider, junior Marritta Gillcrease (Pittsburgh, Pa./Perry Traditional) had five points and eight rebounds with graduate student Shereen Lightbourne (Elmsford, N.Y./Alexander Hamilton) adding three points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 18 minutes off the bench.
“Shereen gave us some good minutes and good energy off the bench,” Milligan said. “She was diving all over the floor and getting it done, taking advantage of more playing time due to a depleted line up.”
Former East Coast Conference rivals, Rider and CCSU renewed the rivalry exactly one year ago today when the Broncs lost 62-61 in overtime in New Britain, Connecticut.
“Last year was a tough loss,” McKenzie remembered. “This was kind of a ‘pay back’ game for us.”
McKenzie is now ninth on Rider's all-time scoring list with 1,170 points and her 894 rebounds is third best all-time as a Bronc and only 139 rebounds behind all-time leader, Bronc Hall of Famer Jessica Beck.
This was the first visit to Lawrenceville for Central Connecticut since February 15, 1992, 7,981 days ago.
Rider leads the all-time series 6-3.
This is Rider’s second win in a row by a three point margin with the Broncs coming off a 66-63 victory over Binghamton in overtime on December 14.
“These last two games were tough and both came down to the wire,” Milligan said. “We had to score and had to get stops so that is going to give us good preparation and good experience now that we are headed into conference play. This will help, especially our younger players because these types of games are what MAAC play is all about; stepping up, responding and getting a positive result.”
The Broncs are off until December 29 when Rider opens Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play against Fairfield at 4 p.m. That game will be the second half of a doubleheader with the Rider men hosting the University of Pennsylvania at noon on the Comcast Network.