Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Guru's Overniter: Perkins at Finish Again Sends Rider Into a First Place Tie in the MAAC

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – On the eve of a potential basketball coaching milestone that will be noted across the nation if it occurs Friday night, here’s to another one that was achieved here Thursday night that accomplished some instant dividends with a little help from elsewhere.

For the record, the one that is about to happen out West in a Pac-12 game is that if eighth-ranked Stanford tops USC in Los Angeles then Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer will join the late Tennessee coach Pat Summitt as the only two women’s coaches to reach 1,000 victories.

As for here, it’s now two straight games Rider senior Robin Perkins sealed the deal in the final seconds to give the Broncs another comeback victory, this time beating host Monmouth 71-69 in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game at the OceanFirst Bank Center.

On Saturday afternoon, Perkins, a product of Willingboro, N.J., and Trenton Catholic via transfer from Saint Francis, Pa., popped a three-pointer in a home game at Alumni Gymnasium as time expired to rescue coach Lynn Milligan’s team from an upset at the hands of Saint Peter’s.

On Thursday here with 3.7 seconds left in regulation, Peters was sent to the foul line and calmly sank both free throws for her game-high 20 points to snap a 69-69 tie for a Rider 71-69 lead and final score that went into the books after a shot from Monmouth’s Rosa Graham went across the rim as the game ended.

And while the fans supporting the visitors were put through another chiller that resulted in the Broncs’ 10th road win, host Fairfield in Connecticut upset MAAC front-runner Quinnipiac 65-52 locking Rider (16-6, 10-3 MAAC) and the Bobcats (16-6, 10-3) into a first-place tie.

Quinnipiac, off a season 2-0 sweep, still owns the top seed for next month’s tournament in the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

But who expected the Bobcats to lose two straight games for only the third time since joining the league in 2013-14. It’s possible someone else could do some dirty work on Quinnipiac, which could open an easier path for Rider to winning the MAAC and earning a first-ever NCAA bid.

But if not, the Broncs are definitely in the hunt for postseason action somewhere.

Meanwhile, Milligan, a Broncs alum and native of Voorhees, N.J., near Philadelphia is having quite the 10th anniversary season celebration as is her assistant Pam Durkin, also a Rider alum.

 Both served long stints as assistants at Drexel, and Milligan also had a six-year run as an assistant at Saint Joseph’s.

She recently reached her 100th victory and Thursday’s win over Monmouth (10-11, 5-7) marks the most the Broncs have had in any of her previous nine  seasons.

As the Guru likes to joke, the 16th win also made Rider Bowl-Eligible, as they say, counting victories along the way in football.

Having already been contacted by the WBI postseason tourney, the Broncs have now enhanced their paths to the WNIT, which grew to a 64-team field several seasons ago.

Since joining the MAAC in the late 1990s, Rider has never finished second or better and spent a long time as the doormat or among a group of doormats way below the penthouse bunch that was headlined a long time by Marist.

"What is happening is now they have some very good younger classes whose players are pushing and challenging for positions, which makes for a deeper and more competitive team,” said Saint Joseph’s assistant John Hampton, who served a stint at Rider prior to joining the Hawks last season.

And here’s one to think about, in the Garden State, glancing at other Division I schools, some with long-range success like Rutgers and Princeton, and others with recently regained competitiveness like Seton Hall, as of now Rider is at the top of the heap.

Yes, they took a late beating at Seton Hall and didn’t play struggling Rutgers, but they opened play in November stunning Princeton in the Tigers’ Jadwin Gym up the road from Rider’s campus in Lawrenceville, N.J., which is equidistance from Trenton, the state capital.
That became an omen of several things last achieved in the Broncs’ program before virtually all the undergraduate student population was born.

And the Guru can prove that fact because one of them, Melissa Willhouse, a Rider junior, shot those nice pictures this past summer for the Guru at the USA women’s basketball Olympic exhibition doubleheader at Delaware.

Meanwhile, although Milligan’s numbers are obviously far overshadowed by VanDerveer’s achievements, they are the results of a survivor who has endured some gritty seasons but has also had administrators who believed in staying the course.

And surviving is what Thursday was about once more, adding to a list of similar contests besides last weekend, like at a game at Siena, which visits Saturday at 2 p.m. In that game the Broncs scored nine points in the final 28 seconds.

Against Monmouth, the Hawks built a nine-point lead in the first period, but the Broncs came back before the half to pull within a basket at 35-33.

At the start of the third period and second half, Julia Duggan tied it with a layup and then the Hawks ripped off a 12-0 run to make the dozen-point advantage the largest by Monmouth, which at the end of the third was still comfortably in front 54-46.

In the fourth and final period, Rider decided to start answering the call, with a 25-15 differential over the complete 10 minutes. But the outcome was still under a strong 62-52 grip with 6:43 left in the game.

“I told the team the fourth quarter had to be the best 10 minutes of defense of the season,” Milligan said. “I don’t know if it was our best, but we got stops, we got steals and we did what we had to do to win.”

Perkins’ two foul shots cut the lead to four at 62-58 with 5:03 showing as remaining regulation time.

Graham’s layup with 3:02 left was another answer to the Broncs’ rally attempts to make it 66-60.

Then Lexi Posset tried to slice the lead in half with an errant triplet but Rider got the offensive rebound and Duggan’s layup reduced the deficit to four 66-62 with 2:32 left.

The Broncs got another life off a Hawks turnover and Stella Johnson took advantage her steal with a layup and made the And-One and Rider was within a point at 66-65 with 2:02 left.

Then given the chance to extend the lead, Helena Kurt made just 1-for-2 and and Rider just needed a bucket to tie it with 1:12 left in regulation.

Posset’s two foul shots tied it 67-67 with 1:03 remaining in regulation.

Then Kayla Quintana missed a trey and Duggan gave Rider its first lead 69-67 with 29 seconds left on Johnson’s foul shots.

 Graham then laid it up with eight seconds left and another tie, only now it was Monmouth trying to break Rider’s heart.

Then taking advantage of last year’s rule change in the sport that Monmouth had just done, the Broncs inbounded inside the time line. Perkins got it and was fouled, allowing her to go to the line and be the heroine once more.

"You have to play to the end,” Milligan said of yet another incredible comeback. “They threw it at us today.”

Rider teams of the past might have folded but this edition has been cool when the heat of the moment has been the warmest.

“When we’re down and when we’re in the huddle, there’s not a look of what do we do, coach? They’re going to play to the last whistle and sometimes it’s not pretty, but they never stop working hard,” Miller explained.

After Peters’ 20 points, Duggan had 15 for Rider, Kamila Hoskova scored 13, and Johnson had 12.

Monmouth’s Tyese Purvis scored 17, and also shot a nifty 5-of-6 three-point attempts to help that total. Kayla Shaw scored 11.

The Hawks were Villanova-like, making 11-of-17 attempted treys while Rider could only connect with four on the same amount attempts for a 33-12 differential. But in the tale of the tape Rider completely erased it, causing 29 turnovers, of which 17 were steals – Duggan had six – to give the Broncs a 33-12 points off turnovers.

And on the foul line, Rider was 23-for-29 while Monmouth was 6-for-8. The score was tied just four times and the only lead change came near the end when the Broncs went ahead for the first time with 29 seconds left.

The Hawks bench outscored the Broncs' depth 40-7.

Stating the obvious, Monmouth’s Jenny Palmateer, a former star and assistant to the late Kay Yow at North Carolina State, said afterwards, “Our team showed some fight in the second half, but unfortunately there were two things that did us in.

“The first is we put them on the foul line way too much, and the second was turning the ball over way too much. You can’t play the second place team in the conference and have those things happen, it’s basically giving them free points.”

On Saturday, while Rider is hosting Siena at 2 p.m., Monmouth will be at Quinnipiac with a chance to help the Broncs out if they do their part.

Rutgers Falls at Iowa

In the only other locally-involved game Thursday night, speaking of schools in New Jersey, make it a sweep for Iowa over Rutgers in their two-game series in the Big Ten after the Hawkeyes beat the Scarlet Knights 71-57 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Aliyah Jeune had 17 points, one off her career high, for the Scarlet Knights (6-17, 3-7 Big Ten) while Kaandiss Barber had 14 points.

On the other side, Megan Gustafson had a simultaneous career and game-high with 25 points and 12 rebounds for Iowa (14-8, 5-4), where Rutgers Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer developed the program into a national power and coached there for over a decade after leaving Cheyney in 1983 in suburban Philadelphia.

Rutgers is next back home in the Rutgers Athletic Center on Wednesday, Feb. 8, for a brief stop before going back on the road to play at Minnesota, Feb. 11.

And that’s the wrap.





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