Women’s College Basketball
Rider University 77, Siena College 63
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Game
LOUDONVILLE, N.Y.—Shooting 11 of 17 from the field, senior MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)), tied a career-high with 29 points to lead the Rider University women’s basketball team to a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference win at Siena College on Tuesday afternoon.
“The final score was not close to being indicative of how hard fought a game this was,” said an exhausted head coach Lynn Milligan. “Both teams just went after it and battled until we pulled away in the final five minutes. This was a typical one or two possession conference game.”
Overall, the game featured 11 ties and eight lead changes.
For McKenzie, it was her second 29-point game in a row and she added eight rebounds, four steals, an assist and a block in 39 minutes of play.
“MyNeshia got her points,” Milligan said. “But we had so many more players step up and contribute and in order for us to be successful, we can’t be a one player team. You saw today how important it was to have contributions up and down the lineup. When you number is called, you have to be ready for the opportunity.”
Trailing 51-50 with 9:17 left in the game, Rider (5-6, 1-1 MAAC) went on a 6-0 run, two points each by McKenzie, junior Marritta Gillcrease (Pittsburgh, Pa./Perry Traditional Academy) and red-shirt junior Lashay Banks (Philadelphia, Pa./Prep Charter) to take the lead for good, 56-51 with 7:13 remaining.
Playing a career-high 36 minutes, Gillcrease finished with eight points, seven rebounds and had a career-high five blocked shots. Banks finished with eight points and three rebounds and added two assists, two blocks and two steals in 32 minutes of action.
“Marritta had another strong game,” Milligan said.
Siena cut the Bronc lead to one (56-55) with 6:19 left but Rider responded with a 5-0 run, all five points by sophomore Mikal Johnson (Manassas, Va./Osbourn) to extend the margin to six points.
Johnson had 16 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes while adding two assists, a block and a steal.
“Mikal is playing really well,” McKenzie said. “After Siena cut the lead to one, she made some clutch plays so that we stayed in the lead. “All of my teammates are doing a good job, stepping up.”
In her last seven games (all starts), Johnson is averaging 13.1 points per game and more importantly, 32 minutes a game for the injury depleted Broncs.
After two Saint free throws made it 61-57 with 5:12 left, Rider ended the game on a 16-4 run, four points by McKenzie and three each from graduate student Shereen Lightbourne (Elmsford, N.Y./Alexander Hamilton) and red-shirt sophomore Manon Pellet (Marseille, France).
Lightbourne finished with six points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in only 11 minutes off the bench with Pellet compiling five points in 18 minutes of play.
“We made some huge plays down the stretch,” Milligan said about the final run. “On a day when we had a season-high in turnovers (22) and were out-rebounded 23-9 on the offensive glass, we clamped down when we needed to on defense.”
Siena missed its last eight shots over the final 7:04 of the game with the Rider defense causing two of the 17 Saint turnovers over that stretch.
Rider shot a season-high 58 percent (28-48) for the game, including 74 percent (17-23) in the second half.
“We started getting to the basket in the second half,” McKenzie said about the high shooting percentage. “That was really the only halftime adjustment, to look for better and higher percentage opportunities.”
The first half was a tight battle before Siena (5-6, 0-2 MAAC) broke an 8-8 tie with a 6-1 run, opening up a 14-9 lead, 9:28 into the game.
Trailing 19-14, Rider took a 23-19 lead with a 7-0 run, three points by sophomore Kornelija Valiuskyte (Siauliai, Lithuania) with 6:23 left in the opening half. Valiuskyte finished with those three points but added four rebounds, four assists and two steals in 20 minutes off the bench.
The teams went back and forth over the final six minutes of the opening period with freshman Julia Duggan (Marmora/Ocean City) hitting a shot after a steal by Lightbourne to give Rider a 31-29 lead at intermission.
Siena scored eight of the first 10 points to start the second half and the Saints led 37-33 with 16:15 remaining.
Trailing 42-37, Rider scored seven straight, all of the points by McKenzie as the Broncs went back into the lead 44-42 with 11:55 left in the second half.
McKenzie moved into seventh place all-time on Rider scoring list (1,228) and her 907 rebounds are only 18 behind Caitlin Bopp for second place on the all-time Bronc rebounding list.
McKenzie now has 10 career games with 20 or more points, including six this season.
This is only the seventh time in 36 games that the Broncs have defeated Siena but it is Rider’s third win in a row in the series.
Rider won here in Loudonville 69-57 and defeated the Saints 72-52 in the final home game of the 2012-13 regular season.
The teams meet again on January 24, 2014 at Alumni Gymnasium in Lawrenceville.
“This was a tough MAAC road win,” Milligan added about getting the first road win of the season. “Especially here at Siena, they play well here, they draw well, the crowd is into it and this is a tough place to play.”
The Saints are led by former Bronc assistant coach (1997-98) Ali Jaques who is in her second season at Siena.
Rider is now 1-1 in MAAC play, having lost at home to Fairfield 67-61 on December 29.
“To come back and win on the road after losing the opener at home, less than two days earlier is huge for us,” Milligan said. “That’s a good sign for this group.”
Rider travels to conference newcomer Quinnipiac University on Friday for a 4 p.m. game in Hamden, Connecticut. The Bobcats are coming off a 30-3 season as Northeast Conference champions. This season, Quinnipiac is 7-6, 2-1 in the MAAC, losing at defending MAAC champion Marist before defeating Canisius and Niagara.
“We are just looking to go out and play hard, as we do for each game,” McKenzie said about facing the NCAA qualifying Bobcats. “If we do that, we’ll be fine.”