Women’s College Basketball
Rider University 73, Siena College 70
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Game
LAWRENCEVILLE—Led by 24 points from senior MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)) and 14 points from sophomore Mikal Johnson (Manassas, Va./Osbourn), the Rider University women’s basketball team held on for a 73-70 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference victory over Siena College on Friday evening in Alumni Gymnasium.
“Our games with Siena are always close,” said head coach Lynn Milligan. “They always come down to the wire. I thought we did a solid job, especially in the second half. This was a battle.”
Tied at 64, Johnson converted a three-point play, making the score 67-64 with 1:50 left the contest.
In 36 minutes of play, Johnson added six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
“Mikal was terrific at the end of the game,” Milligan said. “She made some big plays and some great defensive stops. She was fantastic.”
After Siena (6-12, 1-8 MAAC) cut Rider's lead to one, sophomore Manon Pellet (Marseille, France) made two free throws with 15.8 seconds remaining and with the Saints cutting the Bronc lead to one again, Pellet made two more free throws with 5.3 seconds left for the final score.
“We held strong,” said Milligan. “We got some good stops at the end.”
Pellet had six points, going a perfect six for six from the free throw line and added a career-high 10 assists in 30 minutes of play.
“That’s her job,” Milligan said about Pellet’s assists. “The mark of a good point guard is making her teammates better and she did that tonight. We call it the three ‘Ps’, poise, presence and be able to handle pressure. Manon showed that tonight.”
Siena missed a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.
Tied 32-32 at the half, Rider opened the second period, scoring four straight points and leading 44-41, the Broncs reeled off seven straight points, five by junior Kornelija Valiuskyte (Siauliai, Lithuania) as Rider took its largest lead of the contest with 14:02 left.
“We listened to coach at half time,” McKenzie said about coming out strong to open the second half. “We knew what we were doing wrong and we knew we had to fix it ASAP.”
“We needed the defense to step up,” Milligan said about the half time adjustments. “We needed to force some of the action.”
Making her first start of the season, Valiuskyte tied a career-high with 13 points and added three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 35 minutes of play.
“It’s difficult but we always tell our players that they have to be ready when their number is called,” Milligan said about Valiuskyte. “She is a veteran and gives us everything she has whenever she is on the floor. I’m not surprised at all about how she played. She made shots, hit some threes and led the team and more important her teammates trust her.”
Valiuskyte had three three-pointers in the game as Rider hit seven from three-point distance.
“I just try to bring energy,” Valiuskyte said. “No matter if I’m starting or coming in off the bench, I leave everything I have on the court. Tonight was a different role and I did what I had to do. It’s my job to get stuff done.”
Trailing 55-46, Siena used a 6-0 run, four points by junior Kelsey Booth to cut the Rider lead to three with exactly 10:00 minutes remaining in the game.
Making her first career start, Booth finished with career-highs in points with 25 and rebounds (12), five on the offensive glass while adding two assists and two steals in 31 minutes of play before fouling out with 1:13 left in the game.
After Siena cut the Rider (9-10, 5-5 MAAC) 10-point lead to one (59-58) with 6:29 left in the contest, Johnson hit two free throws and with the Broncs leading 61-60, Johnson banged home a three-pointer, giving Rider a four-point lead with 3:34 remaining.
Siena tied the game twice in the second half and cut the Rider lead to one point on eight different occasions.
“You never want to give up a 10-point lead,” Milligan said. “The fact that we never gave up the lead was big. It was truly bend and bend and bend but not break. We know things are going to happen and the true character of your team is revealed when things don’t go right. We had good character tonight.”
Eight of Rider's 19 games this season have been decided by six points or less.
Siena opened the game with a 5-0 run before Rider responded with six points in a row, three by Valiuskyte.
The opening half featured seven ties and 12 lead changes, with neither team opening up more than a four point lead.
Trailing 32-28, Rider scored the final four points of the opening half, all four by McKenzie from the free throw line.
Limited to 33 minutes due to her own foul trouble, McKenzie made 12 of 14 foul shots with the Broncs converting 28 of 41 from the charity stripe.
“You have to make free throws to win ball games,” Milligan said. “We struggled early but then made the last eight in a row over the final five minutes and we needed all of them to pull out the win.”
Siena out-shot Rider 43.9 percent (25-57) to 39.6 percent (19-48).
Rider held a 36-33 rebounding advantage, led by nine boards from McKenzie.
The second leading scorer and rebounder in the MAAC, McKenzie now has 992 rebounds, second all-time at Rider, behind Bronc Hall of Famer Jessica Beck who had 1,015 points and 1,023 rebounds in her Rider career. McKenzie has 1,370 points in her career, sixth best on Rider's all-time scoring list.
Each team had 22 turnovers.
After losing 10 in a row to the Saints, Rider has now swept the season series for the second season in a row with four straight victories over their conference rivals from Loudonville. Rider won on the road at Siena 77-63 on December 31, behind a career-high 29 points from McKenzie and 16 points from Johnson.
Siena leads the all-time series 29-8.
The Saints have lost six straight and have lost four conference games by six points or less, including an overtime loss at Fairfield.
“That’s a good team on the other side of the court,” Milligan said about Siena. “They play hard and give everything they have and they are going to continue to get better. They have a lot of young kids that play hard for (Saint head coach) Ali (Jaques).”
Rider travels to defending MAAC champion Marist on January 29.