Women's College Basketball
Rider University 70, Saint Peter's College 69 (ot)
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Game
LAWRENCEVILLE--One of the most prolific three-point shooters in the nation, junior Ali Heller (Boca Raton, Fla./St. Andrews) made sure her free throw shooting was just as clutch as her foul shot with 3.1 seconds remaining in overtime was enough to give the Rider University women's basketball team a come from behind 70-69 win over Saint Peter's on Saturday in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game.
"This was fun, a terrific effort by both teams," said a relieved Rider head coach Lynn Milligan. "For us to come back from a nine point deficit with 3:09 left is huge. Those are deficits that we have been fighting all year. To tie it at the end of regulation and actually have a chance to win it in the second half was amazing."
Heller, who finished with a team-high 13 points on four three-pointers, made one of three foul shots for the seventh and final lead change to give Rider (2-15, 2-4 MAAC) its second win in the last three games.
"I was thinking to shoot the free throws just like practice," said Heller who missed her first free throw attempt of the season before hitting the game-winner. "We shot 100 free throws each in practice yesterday so I think we were ready to be in big situations at the line. I was thinking that the first miss (in her last 17 attempts) was a fluke and to make the next one."
Entering play, Rider had missed 131 free throws in the first 16 games, costing the team over eight points a game off their offensive scoring average. Today, the Broncs were five of six from the charity stripe in the final 2:13 of regulation and were four for five in the overtime period when Heller stepped to the line. Overall the Broncs made 17 of 29 with Saint Peter's making nine of 18 from the charity stripe.
"This is one of those games that I am so proud of the effort," Milligan said. "The 'no quit' attitude after losing against Manhattan two days ago by almost 30 points and then to come back not only in the second half but the overtime when we got down four."
Sophomore Carleigh Brown (Philadelphia, Pa./Nazareth Academy) made two foul shots with 36 seconds left in overtime to tie the score at 69-69, the eighth and final tie of the game. C. Brown finished with eight points and seven rebounds, five on the offensive glass.
"Carleigh knows what her role is and will do anything that is possible to help us win," Milligan said.
Rider out-scored SPC 11-2 over the final three minutes of regulation, four points by sophomore Caitlin Bopp (Baltimore, Md./Inst. of Notre Dame), to send the game into overtime. Bopp, who was limited to 21 minutes due to foul trouble, made a lay-up with 7.1 seconds left in the second half to tie the score at 61-61. Bopp finished with nine points, nine rebounds (five on the offensive glass) and a career-high six blocked shots, including three in the overtime period.
"Caitlin is a battler but the foul trouble created some issues for us," Milligan said. "She gets some tough luck some times but also has to put herself in better situations. She was very fresh in the second half and the overtime."
Trailing 50-49, Saint Peter's went on a 10-0 run, six points by Jynae Judson, to take a 59-50 lead with 3:10 left to play. Judson finished with a game-high 27 points but was forced to leave the game due to a knee injury with 58 seconds left in regulation. The Peahens held Rider without a point for over 7:30 during the run.
"Judson put the team on her back in the second half," Milligan said. "She is an all-conference guard and showed why today. We couldn't stop her. She is a fantastic player."
Rider out-scored Saint Peter's 15-10 in the first five minutes of the second half, six points by Heller, to take a 45-42 lead.
Trailing 14-5, Rider out-scored the Peahens 15-9, six points by Heller, to cut the lead to 23-20 and Rider trailed 32-30 at the half.
"We finally see what we are capable of and that has given us confidence," said Heller who continues to lead the nation in three-point field goal percentage at 51.3 percent. "We can't be complacent and we need to practice hard every single day. A lot of times this season, we were beating ourselves and if we keep this kind of effort, we'll be fine."
Saint Peter's jumped out to a 12-4 lead in the first five minutes, seven points by Teresa Manigrasso. Manigrasso scored 10 of her points in the first half and finished with 18 in the game to go along with four assists.
Sophomore Shereen Lightbourne (Elmsford, N.Y./Alexander Hamilton) had 12 points and four rebounds, two assists a block and a steal in 39 minutes for Rider.
"Just like against Canisius (68-58 win on January 10), we stuck together and played a complete game," Lightbourne said. "When we would get down, everyone stuck together. We were determined to win the game. All of my teammates contributed, whether it was points, rebounds or assists and we needed every last person. I'm proud of the team."
Also for the Broncs, freshman MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)), the reigning MAAC Rookie of the Week, finished with a game-high 12 rebounds with junior Aisha Varnadore (Eastampton/Rancocas Valley) compiling a career-high seven points in 18 minutes off the bench.
Rider out-rebounded Saint Peter's (2-15, 2-4 MAAC) 50-37 including 22-12 on the offensive glass. "Saint Peter's was killing us on the glass early," Milligan said. "That is one of their strengths and they are relentless."
This was the 47th meeting between Rider and Saint Peter's with the Broncs winning nine times including the last two in a row. The teams split two MAAC games last season and will meet again in Jersey City on February 24 at 7pm in the Yanitelli Center.
"Every time we play Saint Peter's it is a battle," Milligan said about the Peahens. "They have two wins but they just won against Iona. Steph DeWolfe (head coach of SPC) does a great job with those kids and they work their buts off and expose your weaknesses."
Rider entered the game averaging 49.9 points per contest and scored a season-high 70 against the Peahens.
The Broncs are now 4-2 under Milligan in overtime games and have won two out of three o.t. games against the Peahens all-time.
Rider improved to 2-1 against Saint Peter's in games decided by one point and the Broncs are 21-19 in the last 31 seasons in one point games including 3-3 under Milligan.
The Broncs have played 40 one-point games since the 1977-78 season, three that have been decided in overtime and Rider is 3-0 in those games.
This was Rider's ninth overtime MAAC game in 14 seasons with the Broncs winning three. The last overtime MAAC win for Rider came at Siena on January 27, 2008 by a 77-73 score.
Rider is on the road for four of the next five games with the Broncs traveling to New Rochelle, New York for a MAAC game at Iona on Friday, January 21 at 7:30p.
"We are confident that we will continue to play well as we head back on the road," Lightbourne added.
"On any given night, any team can win in the MAAC," Milligan said. "Iona is a strong veteran team and we are going to have to have a strong defensive effort and be 'on point' with what we are doing. Today's game was a step but each game in the conference is a grind and with Iona losing to Saint Peter's, they are going to be ready to play."
The Gaels are 1-4 in the MAAC and are at Loyola University Maryland on Sunday before hosting the Broncs next Friday night.