Women’s College Basketball – MAAC First Round
#6 Rider University 64, #11 Saint Peter’s University 55
SPRINGFIELD, Mass.—Survive, advance and play another day.
The Rider University women’s basketball team advanced to the 2014 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference quarterfinals with a 64-55 victory over Saint Peter’s University on Thursday afternoon.
“We are very happy to be sitting up here with a win,” said head coach Lynn Milligan who saw her squad lose in the MAAC quarterfinals last season. “I feel good for the young ladies on the team and especially the seniors. It was kind of a monkey on our back, trying to come up with a playoff win. I’m proud of the effort, especially from MyNeshia (McKenzie) in the second half and Shereen (Lightbourne) in the opening half.”
This was Rider’s first tournament win in seven tries under Milligan and only the fourth playoff win in 17 seasons in the MAAC for the Broncs. Rider’s last MAAC tournament win was in March of 2005 when Becky Hower hit a 37-foot shot at the buzzer, giving the Broncs a come from behind 60-58 victory over then MAAC-member Loyola University.
Appearing in a Rider record 120th career game for women’s basketball, senior MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)) had 25 points and 11 rebounds, playing all 40 minutes and recorded her 44th career ‘double-double’ and 18th of the season.
A First Team All-MAAC honoree and Player of the Year candidate, McKenzie now has 21 career games of 20 points or more, 17 coming this season.
Trailing 43-40, Rider went on a 10-0 run, six points by McKenzie, the sixth and final lead change of the game as the Broncs went ahead 50-43 with 10:37 left. McKenzie had 19 points in the second half on six for eight shooting and added four steals, all in the final 20 minutes.
“MyNeshia started the second half with kind of an edge to her,” Milligan said. “You can kind of tell when it is time to start calling plays for her and we called her number, I think five times in a row. It was also a key that the defense got stops so that we were able to build a lead.”
McKenzie now has 1,585 career points, third best all-time at Rider and she is the Rider record holder in rebounds with 1,121.
“I felt that I only had 20 minutes left to play in my collegiate career,” McKenzie said about her mind set. “I was determined and I didn’t want to end my career. I wanted to play tomorrow (Friday) and the next day and the day after that. I woke up this morning and my mentality was that I don’t want this to end and that’s been my approach all season.”
Trailing 36-32, Rider scored four straight points, all four by McKenzie as Rider tied the game 36-36 with 18:16 left in the game.
Junior Lashay Banks (Philadelphia, Pa./Prep Charter) had a steal and her jumper tied the game 40-40 with 15:17 left in the contest.
Banks had nine points, six rebounds and three steals in 32 minutes of play.
The opening half was a back and forth battle.
Leading 7-6, Rider went on a 9-0 run, all nine points by graduate student Shereen Lightbourne (Elmsford, N.Y./Alexander Hamilton) as the Broncs extended their lead to 16-6 with 11:33 left in the first period.
Lightbourne finished with 15 points and added three assists and a steal in 30 minutes off the bench. Lightbourne entered play averaging only 12.7 minutes per contest.
“I’ve taken things day by day and game by game,” said Lightbourne who has battled through three ACL knee injuries which cost her one high school season and her last two collegiate seasons. “This could have been my last game EVER and I just wanted to come in with confidence and stay mentally positive.”
An 84-game veteran, Lightbourne was the Rider team MVP as a sophomore after averaging 30.2 minutes per game and 9.6 points per contest before back to back knee injuries cost her the last two seasons.
“Having Shereen back is an amazing feat,” Milligan said. “What people don’t realize is that Shereen hasn’t taken a day off of practice all season. She has made all 95 of them. That is probably the most incredible aspect of her story. She has sustained what she is doing and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she is playing her best basketball at this point of the season. It took months to get her back into game mode. She has done everything that we have asked of her.”
Saint Peter’s responded with an 8-2 run, cutting the Rider lead to four (18-14) as the Broncs went over three minutes without a field goal.
The Peacocks took a 24-23 lead at the 4:05 mark of the opening half with a 6-0 run.
Rider scored five straight points, three by Lightbourne and two by senior McKenzie to retake the lead 28-24 with 2:53 left in the opening half.
Saint Peter’s responded with a 7-2 run to end the half, including a three-point bank shot at the buzzer, as the Peacocks went into intermission leading 31-30.
“Saint Peter’s made a great shot at the buzzer,” Milligan said about the end to the opening half. “We could have let that swing the momentum but we didn’t. The mood was focused and calm in the locker room and we were focused on the job at hand.”
Rider was out-rebounded 32-29 but the Broncs had 11 steals with Saint Peter’s turning the ball over 18 times.
Saint Peter’s out-shot the Broncs 44 percent (18-41) to 42 percent (20-48). Rider made 21 of 29 free throws with the Peacocks making 12-21 from the charity stripe.
The Peacocks were led by 21 points from senior Aziza May.
Today was the 56th meeting all-time between the two teams with Rider winning for the 14th time. The Broncs swept Saint Peter’s this season, 68-40 on January 9 in Lawrenceville and 56-55 in Jersey City on January 18, 2014 and the Broncs have now won five in a row over the Peacocks.
Rider (14-16, 9-11 MAAC) will face third seed Fairfield University (20-9, 15-5 MAAC) on Friday at 9:30 p.m. The Stags won two close games over Rider in 2013-14, 67-61 in Lawrenceville on December 29 and 52-50 in Bridgeport, Connecticut on February 13.
“We are excited about Friday night,” Milligan added about the game against the Stags. “It is survive and advance time. We are going to show up with a strong defensive mindset and go from there. The games have typically been a slower pace and it is up to us to have the commitment on the defensive end to try and stop them. We are excited for the opportunity.”
The opportunity to play another day.