Women’s College Basketball – MAAC Semifinals
Marist College 70, Rider University 59
SPRINGFIELD, Mass.—The 2013-14 season came to an end for the Rider University women’s basketball team with the Broncs losing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference semifinals on ESPN 3 to eight-time defending MAAC champion Marist College on Sunday afternoon at the MassMutual Center.
“It wasn’t the outcome we wanted but I thought it was a very well-played game on both sides,” said head coach Lynn Milligan who completed her seventh season at Rider. “I’m proud of what the team has done.”
Rider kept it close for the first 26 minutes before the Red Foxes pulled away.
Leading 29-28, Marist opened the second half on a 7-1 run as the Red Foxes expanded their lead to 36-29.
Two free throws by senior MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)) and a free throw by Duggan cut the deficit back to four with 18:07 left in the game, 36-32.
A two-time First Team All-MAAC honoree and Rider’s leading scorer, averaging over 19 points a game, McKenzie was plagued by foul trouble and finished with six points and six rebounds in only 28 minutes of play.
McKenzie led the MAAC averaging over 36 minutes a contest and she played all 80 minutes in Rider’s first two wins of the conference tournament.
Duggan, a member of the MAAC All-Rookie team, played 35 minutes and added 15 rebounds for her second career ‘double-double’.
“The freshman stepped up today,” said McKenzie who was an All-MET Second Team selection as a junior. “They have a wonderful three years in front of them and I couldn’t be more proud of how they played.”
“It’s a good sign when you have young players step up in a big game situation,” Milligan added. “Steph and Jules aren’t afraid to make plays and make things happen. They have a winning mentality and winning attitude.”
“Playing in this type of big game, it teaches you to stay composed and stay together as a team,” said Duggan.
Trailing 44-35, Rider cut the Red Fox lead back to three with a 6-0 run, two points each by Duggan, Mason and graduate student Shereen Lightbourne (Elmsford, N.Y./Alexander Hamilton) as the Broncs got to within 44-41 with 14:11 left in the contest.
“These last two games, I got my confidence back,” said Mason who scored 14 points and hit four three-pointers in Rider’s come from behind quarterfinal win over Fairfield on Friday night. “I think I can carry this over into next season.”
In her final game, Lightbourne finished with three points and two rebounds in 21 minutes of play.
Marist responded with a 21-5 run, opening up a 65-46 lead with 5:55 left in the contest and the Red Foxes led by 21 with 5:00 remaining.
“We had a couple of defensive breakdowns in the second half that we would like back,” Milligan added.
Trailing 69-48, Rider ended the game on an 11-1 run, four points by Mason for the final score.
Trailing 9-6 early, Rider cut the Red Fox lead to one on a layup by Duggan at the 13:06 mark of the opening half. Duggan had seven of Rider’s first nine points in the game.
Junior Marritta Gillcrease (Pittsburgh, Pa./Perry Traditional Academy) hit a layup off an entry pass at 10:07, stopping a Red Fox 7-1 run and Mason hit a layup, cutting the Marist lead to 16-13 with 9:41 left in the first period after the 4-0 run.
Gillcrease finished with four points and five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.
Rider went on a 5-0 run, three points by Mason and two by junior Lashay Banks (Philadelphia, Pa./Prep Charter), cutting the Marist lead to 19-18 as the Broncs forced a Red Fox timeout at the 7:39 mark of the first period.
Banks had five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes of play.
A steal and layup by sophomore Manon Pellet (Marseille, France) tied the game 21-21 with 5:16 left in the first half but Rider could not forge into the lead.
“We had some empty possessions at the end of the half,” Milligan said. “Would that have made a difference? You like to think it would but we weren’t able to get that done.”
Pellet had six points and three rebounds and added seven assists and three steals in 39 minutes of play.
Marist led 29-28 at intermission.
Rider out-rebounded the Red Foxes 37-32, including an 8-4 advantage on the offensive glass but Marist was 10 for 20 from three-point range.
“I liked our aggressiveness on offense but we gave up too many threes and also missed too many free throws," said Milligan.
Rider was 17 for 26 from the free throw line.
McKenzie graduates as Rider’s all-time leader in games played with 122 and she finished third on Rider’s all-time scoring list with 1,619 points. McKenzie leaves Lawrenceville as Rider’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,143.
“MyNeshia has been such a huge part of the growth of the program,” Milligan said. “She has grown into such a terrific young lady, both on and off the court. She is a great teammate, leader and captain. Her numbers speak for themself but who she is as a person, that’s what I’m really proud of.”
McKenzie finished the season averaging 19.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and she just missed becoming the first MAAC player to ever average over 20 points and 10 rebounds a contest.
“Marist did a good job collapsing on MyNeshia and limiting her opportunities," Milligan added.
“I think Marist head coach Brian Giorgis put together a good game plan to try and stop me,” McKenzie said. “Credit Sydney Coffey and the rest of the Marist defense for what they were able to do. It wasn’t anything different than what I’ve seen but it was definitely well executed.”
Coffey finished with 18 points and the Red Foxes were led by 23 points and 12 rebounds from Emma O’Connor.
This is the third time that Marist (26-6) has defeated Rider this season, having won 66-56 in Poughkeepsie on January 29 and the Red Foxes were victorious in Lawrenceville 79-51 on February 21.
Former Northeast Conference rivals, Marist and Rider have now met 51 times with the Red Foxes winning for the 38th time, including 23 in a row in the series.
Rider got to the semifinal round with an opening round win on Thursday, 64-55 over Saint Peter’s University and a quarterfinal victory (63-56) over third seeded Fairfield University on Friday, a game Rider trailed by 12 with 14:28 left.
“What we did this weekend and what we accomplished this season, the team took a major step this year and we are excited to keep it going," Milligan said.
In McKenzie’s first two seasons, Rider had 16 wins (none in the MAAC playoffs) with the Broncs compiling 30 wins in her final two seasons, advancing to the MAAC quarterfinals last season and the semifinals this year.
“My goal was to change the culture of the program,” McKenzie said. “I can’t say anything about personal accolades because those achievements are a byproduct of what coach Milligan and my teammates have done for me.”
Marist, which has won 25 MAAC tournament games in a row, advances to its 11th consecutive MAAC Championship game.
The Red Foxes play fourth seed Quinnipiac University on Monday at 2:00pm on ESPNU. The Bobcats upset top seed Iona College 79-68 in the first semifinal Sunday morning.