Women’s College Basketball
Fairfield University 67, Rider University 61
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Game
LAWRENCEVILLE—Rider University senior MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)) scored a career-high 29 points but it wasn’t enough as a late rally fell short in a 67-61 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference loss to Fairfield University on Sunday afternoon in Alumni Gymnasium.
“It was a typical conference game,” said head coach Lynn Milligan. “It went down to the wire. We have a fabulous conference with terrific coaches and terrific players and the MAAC is super competitive.”
“We fight to the end,” said McKenzie. “We would like to not get down (by 13 points) but I’m proud of the way the team keeps battling. We’ll get things fixed.”
Trailing 63-50 with 3:12 remaining in the game, Rider (4-6, 0-1 MAAC) used an 11-0 run to cut the Stag lead to two with 59.3 seconds left, but a missed jumper by the Broncs to tie the game, followed by four Fairfield (6-4, 1-0 MAAC) foul shots in the final 36 seconds sealed the conference opener for the Stags.
“We had a chance to tie it and just didn’t get it done,” Milligan said about the play with 38 seconds left, trailing 63-61. “We had a good look at the basket (six footer) and the shot didn’t fall. We need to do a better job of not digging ourselves a 13-point hole to climb out of. We need better balance; we either do things really, really well or make silly mistakes. We need to find a middle ground.”
Mikal Johnson (Manassas, Va./Osbourn) had four of the 11 points during the Rider run and the sophomore finished with 12 points and four rebounds, while adding an assist, a block and a steal in 32 minutes of play.
“Mikal has been in ‘double-digits’ every game since she has been in the starting lineup,” Milligan said. “She is doing a nice job.”
Rider opened the game hot from the field, making its first nine of 12 shots as the Broncs led 18-12 with 11:57 left in the opening half. McKenzie and red-shirt junior Lashay Banks (Philadelphia, Pa./Prep Charter) each scored four of Rider’s first 18 points.
Banks finished with six points in 27 minutes of play.
Fairfield used a 6-0 run to tie the game 18-18 and trailing 22-20, the Stags ended the half on a 15-2 run, eight points by Felicia DaCruz who finished with 14 points and three assists, playing all 40 minutes.
The Stags led 35-24 at intermission.
“I think Fairfield did a good job mixing up its defense but I also think sometimes we stopped ourselves a little bit,” Milligan said. “We had a missed possession or two that didn’t seem big at the time but really came back to hurt us. Every possession is important and it is a long, long process to work through. I like where we are headed but I just want to get there quicker.”
McKenzie scored 10 of Rider’s first 12 points of the second half as the Broncs cut the Stag lead to 40-36 with 16:20 left in the game.
“I don’t feel any pressure to take every shot,” said McKenzie. “We have scorers. We struggled a little today to score and I picked up the slack like my teammates do for me when I struggle. My game is successful because they help pull the defense away from me.”
McKenzie, who played her 100th career game, now has 1,199 points, eighth best all-time at Rider and her 899 career rebounds are third best all-time as a Bronc.
McKenzie entered play 10th in the nation averaging 11.9 rebounds per game.
Leading 44-40, Fairfield went on a 9-3 run, as the Stags pushed the lead back to 10 with 9:55 remaining.
Katie Cizynski led the Stags with 16 points in 39 minutes of play with Alexys Vazquez adding 13 points.
Fairfield out-shot Rider 46 percent (24-52) to 39 percent (22-57) and the Stags held a 36-32 advantage on the glass.
The Stags made six of 10 three-pointers with Rider connecting on only one of 10 from beyond the arc.
“We always battle back,” Milligan said. “We are always going to be in it at the end but we need to work on not hitting that plateau and then falling behind because we use so much energy to fight back. It seemed like when they (Fairfield) needed a bucket, they pounded the ball down low.”
Also for the Broncs, junior Marritta Gillcrease (Pittsburgh, Pa./Perry Traditional Academy) had a career-high 12 rebounds, four on the offensive glass and she added four points and three blocks in 28 minutes of play.
“Marritta played well,” Milligan said. “She has great potential. She is working hard and is still getting the feel for the game. She is battling and blocking shots and still has room to grow. I like where she is headed.”
This is Rider’s 17th season in the MAAC with the last conference opening win during the 2002-03 season at Iona.
Fairfield was swept by Rider in the conference series last season with Rider winning 69-57 at Fairfield and 55-44 in Lawrenceville. The Stags have won 31 of the 36 games all-time against the Broncs.
The teams meet again on February 13, 2014 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a game televised on ESPN 3.
Four of Rider's first 10 games this season have been decided by six points or less.
“We have a lot of talent and we are also still working in some new pieces,” Milligan said about the first 10 games of the season. “We’ve hit some bumps in the road (injuries) but we always seem to be in the game at the end and I expect that to continue. I’m not unhappy at all with how we are playing but we need to play better (more consistent) over longer stretches.”
Rider travels to Siena College for a MAAC game on December 31 at 2 p.m., the first of three conference games in a row on the road.
The Broncs face MAAC newcomers Quinnipiac University and Monmouth University on January 3rd and 5th.
“Traditionally, we’ve been a pretty good road team,” Milligan added. “It’s over break, campus is quiet and there isn’t a lot going on. The road trip gives us a chance to be together and I think that may help us.”