Women’s College Basketball
Rider University 82, Niagara University 72
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Game
LAWRENCEVILLE—According to Rider University women’s basketball coach Lynn Milligan, February is ‘go time’.
On Sunday, Rider improved to 12-11, 8-6 in the conference and 3-0 in the month of February, with a 82-72, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference win over Niagara University on Sunday afternoon, behind the 40th career ‘double-double’ from senior MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)) who compiled 20 points and 11 rebounds.
“This was a hard fought game and a battle,” said Milligan. “Any home game in the MAAC, we have our eyes on that we need to win. We did well offensively and defensively, we need to tighten some things up.”
McKenzie, who scored a Rider record 37 points in an overtime win against Iona on Thursday, added two assists and two steals in 39 minutes of play against the Purple Eagles.
“I thought we stepped up and had some kids make some clutch shots,” said Milligan who saw five players hit ‘double-digits’ in the scoring column. “The opening half, it was Lashay Banks and in the second half, Shereen Lightbourne made some huge plays.”
Leading 72-71, Rider closed the game on a 10-1 run for the final score, five points by graduate-student Shereen Lightbourne (Elmsford, N.Y./Alexander Hamilton), holding the Purple Eagles without a field goal for the final 4:16.
Lightbourne finished with 16 points in only 14 minutes off the bench. Lightbourne also blocked a Purple Eagle three-point attempt with 1:16 remaining and scored the first points of the final run with a three-point play.
“We were at the point where you say as a coach that you can’t lose the lead,” Milligan said about the blocked shot by Lightbourne. “That was a huge play because instead of Niagara getting an open look, we got a fast break and a three-point play, which led to a six point swing. That was a HUGE defensive stop.”
“My knees are feeling better and I’m playing with more confidence,” Lightbourne said. “My teammates are finding me and I was able to make the shots. The blocked three pointer was actually a switch that was messed up (done late) and I had to flash out and not foul and try to disrupt the shot.”
“Shereen knows what February is all about,” Milligan said about Lightbourne who was the team MVP as a sophomore before two knee injuries cost her back to back seasons. “She knows what we need from her and has really embraced her role and is doing an outstanding job.”
“Shereen came up big today,” McKenzie said. “I was here when she played ‘back in the day’ and I’m glad that she is back. This is a tremendous time for her to be able to take the load off some of our other players, including myself. I’m glad she is showing what she is capable of and that she really hasn’t lost anything from not playing two seasons.”
In Rider’s last four games, (three wins), Lightbourne has 47 points in only 58 minutes of play, shooting 52 percent from the field and making nine three-pointers.
Trailing 61-49, Niagara (7-16, 5-9 MAAC) cut the Bronc lead to one (70-69) with 2:32 left in the game on the strength of a 20-9 run.
After Niagara cut the Bronc lead to seven, Rider hit five shots in a row, including three, three-pointers from Lightbourne as the Broncs pushed the lead back to 12 (59-47) with 11:43 left in the game.
Trailing 7-6, Rider scored six of the next nine points, five by sophomore Mikal Johnson (Manassas, Va./Osbourn) as the Broncs took a 16-9 lead with 12:28 remaining in the opening half. Johnson had 12 points, five assists and three steals in 35 minutes of play.
Leading 16-11, the Broncs used a 7-0 run, three points by Johnson and two points each by McKenzie and junior Lashay Banks (Philadelphia, Pa./Prep Charter) as the Broncs opened up a 12-point lead with 9:27 left before intermission. Banks finished with10 points, three rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes.
After the Purple Eagles cut the Bronc lead to nine, Rider scored seven of the next nine points, four by freshman Julia Duggan (Marmora/Ocean City) as Rider increased its lead to 31-16, 5:38 before the end of the half. Duggan had 13 points and four rebounds in 16 minutes of play.
Trailing 31-16, Niagara went on an 8-0 run, cutting the Bronc lead to 31-24 with 3:58 remaining in the opening period and Rider led 37-30 at intermission.
Niagara was led by 18 points and 10 rebounds off the bench from Victoria Rampado and 16 points by Chanel Johnson.
The Purple Eagles out-shot Rider 45 percent (24-53) to 44 percent (28-64) with the Broncs making seven three-pointers.
“We went small a little bit,” Milligan said about the rotation for the game. “Niagara’s post players are really mobile.”
Each team made 19 free throws.
Rider had a season-high 23 assists (on 28 made field goals) in the game, led by seven assists from sophomore Manon Pellet (Marseille, France) and more importantly, Rider committed only 10 turnovers, the third time in four games with only 10. The Broncs are averaging only 13.6 turnovers per game this season.
“We shared the ball very well and also took care of the ball,” Milligan added. “We are playing with more confidence on the offensive end of the floor. We are working to be patient and get the best shot that we can get, as opposed to the first open look. You need senior leadership in February and we got that today.”
Rider's all-time leading rebounder with 1,046 rebounds, McKenzie, a 113-game veteran, is now fourth all-time on the Bronc scoring list with 1,454 points.
This was the fourth time in five games that Rider has scored at least 73 points.
This was the 38th meeting all-time between Rider and Niagara with the Broncs winning for the 16th time. Niagara had won four in a row over Rider, including all three games last season, the last a 59-54 victory over the Broncs in the MAAC quarterfinals.
Over 700 fans packed Alumni Gymnasium as part of National Girls and Women in Sports Day with women’s basketball alum Amanda (Paul) Allen speaking to Rider’s 10 women’s teams prior to the game. The Department of Athletics also conducted an all-sport clinic Sunday morning with the women’s basketball team signing autographs after the game.
“The crowd was great,” Milligan said. “It was a great atmosphere.”
Rider travels to Bridgeport, Connecticut to face Fairfield University on Thursday at Webster Bank Arena in a game that will be seen on ESPN 3.
“It’s February and all of the games are tough,” Milligan said about the upcoming schedule. “We are working to get better and tighten things up every day. Every game is huge and it doesn’t really matter who we are playing. It is show up and put up time and we to continue to do that. It’s the bend but don’t break time of year. The conference is wide open.”