Women's College Basketball
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament
Iona College 61, Rider University 60 (ot)
First Round Game
SPRINGFIELD, Mass.--Aleesha Powell scored a layup with 2.9 seconds left in overtime as the Iona Gaels defeated Rider University 61-60 on Thursday in the first round of the 2012 Women's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball playoffs at the MassMutual Center.
"This was a heck of a first round game," said head coach Lynn Milligan. "I can't be more proud of my team and how they performed today."
Powell finished with a game-high 22 points and had five of the seven Iona (13-17) points in the overtime session.
Trailing 54-50, Rider (11-19) junior Carleigh Brown (Philadelphia, Pa./Nazareth Academy) hit a layup with 9.1 seconds left in regulation and after two free throw misses by Iona, sophomore MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)) scored off an offensive rebound at the buzzer to force the extra session. C. Brown finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. C. Brown enters her senior season with 402 career rebounds, 22nd highest all-time at Rider.
McKenzie added nine points and a game-high 14 rebounds, five on the offensive glass and moved into 15th place on Rider's all-time rebound list with 493.
"Carleigh had a great game," Milligan said. "Her offensive rebounding and the put backs were tremendous."
"We left everything out on the floor," C. Brown said. "We needed players to step up today and they did. We left it all out there and gave our heart and soul. I didn't score much in the first half and I thought I could help us by crashing the boards and hustling to give us more opportunities on the offensive end of the floor."
Trailing 45-36, Rider went on an 8-0 run, five points by freshman Kornelija Valiuskyte (Siaulili Lithuania/The Rock School) as the Broncs got to within 45-44 with 2:44 left in regulation. Due to an ACL injury to Rider senior Alyssa Parsons (Ivyland, Pa./Archbishop Wood), Valiuskyte was forced into the starting lineup for the first time as a Bronc and finished with a career-high 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals while logging 37 minutes.
"Kornelija prepared all season for this moment and she was excellent," Milligan said. "She performed well in a very tough environment."
"I played this game for Alyssa (Parsons)," Valiuskyte said. "Being a senior and getting hurt in the next to last game of the season isn't fair. I knew I had to play my best."
After a bank shot by Powell, junior Caitlin Bopp (Baltimore, Md./Inst. of Notre Dame) scored off an offensive rebound bringing Rider to within 47-46 with 1:50 left. Bopp finished with her 18th career 'double-double' and third of the season, compiling 12 points and 13 rebounds. Bopp enters her senior season tied for sixth all-time (with current Associate Head Coach Pam Durkin) on Rider's all-time rebound list with 662.
"We gave everything we had today," Bopp said. "I think our future is bright and I wish we could start tomorrow. I wish we could play Iona again and show them what we are made of."
Powell made two of three free throws with 1:16 remaining, giving the Gaels a 49-46 lead before junior C. Brown made a layup, cutting the Gael lead to one at 49-48 with 59.1 seconds left.
Powell hit a driving layup and was fouled, converting the free throw for a three-point play with 42 seconds left as Iona went ahead 52-48.
C. Brown made two free throws to cut the Iona lead to 52-50 with 22.6 seconds remaining before Powell hit two more free throws with 17.9 seconds left in regulation for a 54-50 Gael lead.
After attempting zero free throws in the opening half, Iona went to the line 24 times in the second half and overtime, converting 18.
Trailing 25-14, Iona held Rider without a field goal (and only two free throws) for the first 10:03 of the second half as the Gaels went ahead 35-27 on a 21-2 run. Rider began the half 0-13 from the field before freshman Emily Fazzini (Wayne, Pa./Archbishop Carroll) hit a jumper to bring the Broncs to within six. Fazzini, playing 40 out of 45 minutes, finished with nine points, four rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal.
"It was a tale of two halves," Milligan said. "I thought we had our chances and it came down to one final stop and we didn't get the stop."
Rider opened the game on a 6-0 run in the first 5:11, three points by Valiuskyte.
The Bronc defense held Iona to an 0-6 start from the field before Powell put the Gaels on the board with 13:50 left in the opening half.
Valiuskyte had five of Rider's seven points in a 7-0 run, putting the Broncs ahead 13-4, 11 minutes into the first period.
McKenzie hit a driving layup with 7:31 left in the first half and followed with two free throws on the next possession giving the Broncs a 21-10 lead with six minutes left before intermission.
Fazzini used a fast break give and go from junior Dior Brown (Upper Darby, Pa./Upper Darby) as Rider built its largest lead of the period, 23-10 at the under four minute media timeout. D. Brown finished with three points, two steals and an assist in 15 minutes off the bench.
Bopp scored a layup from Valiuskyte and Rider led 25-14 at intermission. The 14 points allowed in the first half was Rider's best effort of the season.
Rider out-rebounded the Gaels 51-33, 18-10 on the offensive glass.
The Broncs out-shot Iona 38 to 34 percent.
Also for Rider, senior Sarah Homan (Upper Darby, Pa./Delco Christian) played in her Rider record 119th career game and 115th game in a row. Homan had two rebounds in the game and finished with 554 rebounds, 12th best all-time at Rider.
Rider and Iona split two meetings this season (64-50 Iona on January 13 in New Rochelle) with the Broncs winning 80-76 over the Gaels in Lawrenceville on February 17. The teams played a double overtime game on February 6, 2011 in Lawrenceville with Rider prevailing 93-87.
Rider has won 13 of the 34 games all-time against the Gaels.
"We've had some outstanding battles with Iona over the years," Milligan said. "We tend to bring the best out in each other. For us to end the year like this, I couldn't be more heart broken for this team and what they have gone through. Sometimes life isn't fair."
Due to four ACL injuries, Rider dressed 10 players for today's game with eight seeing action.
Entering the tournament, the teams had split two MAAC playoff games with Rider winning 63-55 on March 1, 2001, exactly 11 years ago.
This is the seventh season in a row that Rider has been eliminated in a MAAC First Round game.
"It's been a tough year but also a great year," Milligan said. "I think we took some huge steps with the program. Our kids battled and are resilient and truly care for one another. They play hard every day."
Rider had the best non-conference record in the MAAC in 2011-12 (8-3) and the 11 wins are the most in a season for Rider since a 14-win campaign in 1999-2000.
Rider returns 10 letterwinners for the 2012-13 season.
"We finished the game with two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors on the floor so we are excited about our future," Milligan added.
Rider is now 0-2 in overtime this season (61-58 loss to Canisius on February 10, 2012) and 6-4 in overtime under Milligan.
Rider is now 22-21 in games decided by one point since 1977-78 including 1-2 this season in games decided by the slimist of margins. The Broncs are 4-5 in one point games under Milligan.
This marks only the fourth time since 1977-78 that Rider has had an overtime game decided by one point and the Broncs had been 3-0 in that situation prior to today's game.
In the second game of the first round on Thursday, #9 Saint Peter's upset #8 Canisius 62-57.
On Friday in the quarterfinals, #2 Fairfield plays #7 Iona at 9:30am, #3 Manhattan plays #6 Siena at 11:30am, top seed Marist plays #9 Saint Peter's at 1:30pm and #4 Loyola faces #5 Niagara at 3:30pm.