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.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: Rider Stuns Quinnipiac to Advance to MAAC Semifinals

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

A year ago Wednesday Rider was the number one seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., and had just emerged from the Broncs’ quarterfinal gritty opening win over a Niagara squad that got to the opposing side winning a first round game 24 hours earlier.

That group had a veteran roster headed by senior Stella Johnson, the nation’s leading scorer, who several weeks later would become a WNBA draft pick and, following a trade, then a release, would be signed by the Washington Mystics and spend the rest of the summer with the entire league in the bubble near Tampa, Fla.

Unknown at the moment as thoughts of the next round danced in their collective focus was that by the next afternoon they were heading for a dead stop, the back end of a COVID-19 induced collapsing dominoes taking conference after conference, sport after sport, and ultimately the unthinkable cancellation of the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments.

Back at the seashore in this year’s MAAC men’s and women’s affairs, Rider arrived as a shadow of its landmark run, idle for three weeks, but healthy, off the MAAC dealings with the coronavirus.

Their seed, seemingly set for a six, fell to seven, off other results the final day of the regular season.

As for crowd, under the restrictions, just a small number of family and friends of the tournament squads are in the house.

On Tuesday, loaded with rust off the lack of competition since Valentine’s Day, the Broncs barely scraped a survival closing minutes against a 10th-seeded Monmouth squad devoid of a suspended head coach who was off the payroll by the following afternoon.

But all that got veteran Lynn Milligan’s squad was a Wednesday afternoon date with second-seeded Quinnipiac, a fearsome force in the eight years of MAAC membership since leaving the Northeast Conference.

However, the 12 months’ difference is that while the 2020 group had come to a dead stop through no control of their own, it’s still dead ahead to semifinals in 2021 after a dominating 25-9 fourth quarter led to a stunning 62-50 upset handing the Bobcats (13-6, 11-5 MAAC) their earliest exit as a MAC participant. 

The Broncs (8-17, 5-13),  who have had their share of tough losses over the years, poured it on off what had been a game of 11 lead changes with a closing 15-2 finish.

It’s the first quarterfinal upset of a second seed since 1995, which is 26 years ago.

Quinnipiac led 48-47 with 3:51 left in regulation when Rider hit a trio of  3-pointers on its next three possessions.

With a minute left and a six-point lead, 56-50, Rider’s lone senior, Daija Moses, who hit two foul shots to help close out Monmouth, took a charge and the Broncs went 6-0 doubling the differential the rest of the way.

They’ll face the winner of a Thursday quarterfinal round meeting between third-seeded Saint Peter’s (11-14, 10-9) and sixth-seeded Iona (6-8, 5-6) on Friday at 1:30 p.m.

The other Friday game at 11 a.m. will pair top-seeded Marist, which ousted ninth-seeded Siena, 63-55, against the winner of Thursday’s other game between between fifth-seeded Manhattan (10-6, 9-3)  and fourth-seeded Fairfield (10-4, 9-3).

Saturday’s championship is at 11 a.m. 

The games are all airing on ESPN+ except the championship, which is on ESPNews.

“Obviously, a great win for our program today,” Milligan said. “To beat Quinnipiac, who’s been a perennial favorite in this league for a really long time, the job that Trish (Sacca Fabbri) does with them, year in and year out, everybody knows is really impressive.

“I’m really proud of this group. They bought into the game plan and what we wanted to do and how we needed to play today to be successful,” she continued.

“And then we obviously had again, like yesterday, different people at different times in the game really step up and make some big shots.”

Freshman Raphaela Toussaint had 13 points, shooting 5-of-6 from the field, while MAAC co-rookie of the year Makayla Firebaugh scored 12, and Anna Ekerstedt out of Sweden, who was a surprise factor Tuesday, followed up with another 10 points for an encore, shooting 10-of-20 across both games.

Amanda Mobley had seven points and a season-high 10 assists, while Moses and Lenaejha Evans combined for 15 bench points.

“That was a big part of our game,” Mobley said of the 2-3 zone defense that stymied the opposition in the fourth quarter. “We worked on it a lot in our three weeks off, in practice, and before this game.”

The Broncs’ air attack was deadly with 9-of-18 threes connected for 50 percent, with Touissant hitting all three of her three-balls, and Ekerstedt and Moses making the trio’s effort, 6-for-7.

“That’s what they do, Those are shots we work on and are part of our offense,” Milligan said. “We run a lot of stuff to get them those shots because we feel if we can draw attention inside ... we have the utmost confidence ... to make those shots because we watch them do it every day.” 

Mikayla Morris scored 15 for Quinnipiac and Rose Caverly scored 12.

It’s the fifth straight year Rider will be in the semifinals, advancing several years ago to a title game loss to the Bobcats.

Mackenzie DeWeese, the MAAC player of the year out of Quinnipiac, was held to two points, while the Bobcats’ Morris was named the defensive player of the year.

“Quinnipiac has obviously developed quite the reputation here so you got to be ready to come in here and go against anybody,” said Fabbri, a native of Delran in South Jersey who starred for Gloucester’s Dianne Nolan at Fairfield. “Credit those young ladies. They had opportunities, they made the most of the opportunity on the perimeter.”

In the Marist game, Willow Duffell had 14 points and 14 rebounds for the winning Red Foxes (16-3, 13-3) under MAAC co-coach of the year Brian Giorgis, in his 19th season. Sarah Barcello scored 20 with six steals and five rebounds. The program is 25-1 as the top seed in the tourney.

Siena (4-9, 3-8) refused to go quietly, making a 14-2 run late in the game. Lala Watts had 10 points and 15 rebounds for the Saints.

Giorgis set a MAAC record with his eighth honor, which was shared with Saint Peter’s Marc Mitchell.

Penn State Ousted in Big Ten: The 10th-seeded Lady Lions stayed competitive most of the way with 7th-seeded Michigan State in a game combined with 21 from deep, but the Spartans turned it into a one-and-done affair in the fourth quarter, eliminating Penn State 75-66 in a Big Ten tournament second-round game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Freshman Maddie Burke, the Big Ten Sixth Player of  the Year, had 22 points for the Lady Lions (9-15), connecting six 3-pointers. Shay Hagans had 13 points, while Anna Camden scored 11, and Makenna Marisa dealt six assists.

Michigan State (14-7) got 23 points from Alyza Winston, while Nia Clouden scored 18, Moira Joiner scored 13, and Mardrekia Cook scored 10 with Tory Ozment dishing seven assists.

The Lady Lions roster which was beset with injuries, was the youngest in the Big Ten, and ninth youngest in the nation. 

The Spartans in the quarterfinals Thursday will meet No. 9 Indiana (18-4), the second seed, at 6:30 p.m.

“I know that was a big win for them as they’re on the (NCAA) bubble, which is where we want to get to with our program where we’re playing to get into the tournament,” said Penn State coach Carolyn Kieger. “Obviously, took strides this year to grow and improve but we want to take a giant leap next year. “

Rutgers (14-3), the third seed, at 8:30 p.m., will meet 6th-seeded Iowa (16-8), which eliminated 11th-seeded Purdue, 83-72, as Monika Czinano scored 38 points with nine rebounds and freshman Caitlyn Clark had 27 points against the Boilermakers (7-16).

Iowa at home was one of three Big Ten teams to narrowly beat the Scarlet Knights prior to their five-week pause and ensuing nine-game win streak.

In the other two games in the second round, eighth-seeded Nebraska beat ninth-seeded Minnesota 72-61 advancing the Cornhuskers (12-11) into Thursday’s opener against No. 7 and top-seeded Maryland (21-2) at 11 a.m. Sam Haiby had 19 points against The Golden Gophers (8-13).

Fifth-seeded Northwestern defeated  12th-seeded Illinois 67-42 as Lindsay Pulliam had 21 points, Veronica Burton had 15 points, and Sydney Wood scored 10 against the Illini (5-18). 

The Wildcats (14-7) will meet No. 13 and fourth-seeded Michigan (14-4) at 1 p.m.

“Our defense was tremendous and it just gave us  momentum,” said Northwestern coach Joe McKeown, a Father Judge grad who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia. 

“Before any questions, let me say, Lindsay Pulliam. Wow. I coached Nia Coffee, who she’s probably going to pass and so I feel really lucky to coach these players and to see what Lindsay’s doing right now.”

All four games will be on the FS2 apps from FOX.

American Title Showdown — South Florida/UCF Redux:  After splitting their two games on their home courts last week, No. 20 and number one seed South Florida and two seed UCF emerged from semifinal games to face each other again Thursday night at 10 p.m. on ESPNU in a game that will produce the first champion in the eight-year history of the American Athletic Conference that won’t be named Connecticut. 

Life didn’t change for the departed and No.1 Huskies who finished a perfect return run Monday night through the Big East. 

But it will for either USF (17-3) or UCF (16-3) though it is likely either potential loser will land an NCAA at-large bid..

South Florida, though, did not have it easy for the second straight night, pulling out a gritty 51-47 win over fourth-seeded Tulane (17-8) by rallying from an eight-point deficit in the doubleheader in Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Sydni Harvey, Elisa Pinzan, and Maria Alvarez each scored 12 points for the Bulls, while Bethy Mununga pulled 13 rebounds.

The Green Wave’s Jerkaila Jones had 22 points, while Krystal Freeman had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Down eight in the third period, USF fought back to a series of lead exchanges in the fourth until Alvarez’s deep put the Bulls in front 43-41 near the 90-second mark.

Freeman’s three kept the suspense alive, Tulane trailing 47-45 with 14.4 left, until Pinzan sealed it with two free throws.

“I thought we got off to a good start, couldn’t have had a better start to the game,” said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez. “We got the ball in better spots down the stretch and we made shots. But for us to be successful, we can’t continue to shoot under 30 percent. We’re just escaping with wins right now.

“Bad teams lose these type of games. But one thing this group does, they battle. They battle through adversity. And they continue to stay in the storm and get through the storm.”

Meanwhile, UCF had no such similar hardship dealing with third-seed Houston in a 61-39 wipeout. 

The Golden Knights used a balanced attack, Diamond Battles leading with 14 points against the Cougars (16-7). Masseny Kaba scored 13 and grabbed nine rebounds, while Alisha Lewis scored 10.

Houston’s Laila Blair scored 11 points.

“I’m proud of our team, came out really, really focused, defensively focused,” said UCF coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. “I’m proud we held that team to 39 points. We remember what happened in this game last year and we lost it so our captains and our upperclassmen didn’t want to let that happen again.”

Though USF has been considered the heir apparent to UConn’s rule in the AAC, UCF has had the Bulls’ number in their series, known as the Battle of l-4, the interstate running between the Bulls’ campus in Tampa and Knights’ venue in Orlando, 

“It’s going to be a fun game,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “Both teams want to win a championship. It’s going yo be hard-fought. Everybody’s going to play really, really hard. And it’s going to be like, woooo, this is it. There’s going to be a lot of excitement.  They have upperclassmen. We have upperclassmen. We just have to come focused, just like we did tonight.”

Looking Ahead: Other than Rutgers and Rider addressed above, there are two sets of locals getting under way in separate conference tournaments Thursday.

In the Atlantic 10 at VCU’s Siegel Arena in Richmond, Va., La Salle opens against Duquesne at 11 a.m. while Saint Joseph’s meets UMass at 5 p.m.  the entire round airing on ESPN+

The other two games match Davidson, which eliminated  St. Bonaventure 69-61, playing host VCU at 2 p.m., while George Washington, which ousted George Mason 62-56, plays Richmond at 8 p.m.

Friday’s quarterfinals also are on ESPN+ 

The No. 8 LaSalle-No.9 Duquesne winner meets top-seed Dayton at 11 a.m. followed by the  No. 5 VCU-No. 12 Davidson winner meeting No. 4 Rhode Island at 2 p.m.

The No. 10-Saint Joseph’s-No.7-UMass winner meets No. 2 Fordham at 5 p.m. followed by the No. 11 George Washington-No. 6 Richmond winner meeting No. 3 Saint Louis at 8 p.m.

In the Colonial Athletic Association on Thursday at Elon in North Carolina near Greensboro, in the quarterfinals, No. 1 Delaware meets No. 8 UNCW, which ousted No. 9 Charleston, at 2:30 p.m. after No. 4 Towson meets No. 5 Hofstra at 11 a.m.

No. 3 Drexel, who’s male counterparts just claimed the other gender CAA crown, meets No. 6 Elon at 9:30 p.m. Dragons coach Amy Mallon, by the way, was fourth in winning percentage among Division I  rookie head coaches. The other game matches No. 2 James Madison against No. 7 Northeastern at 6 p.m.

The entire tourney sirs on Flohoops.

In other games of note on Thursday, in the Patriot League, in semifinal separate campus contests, American is at Boston U. at 6 p.m. while Lehigh is at unbeaten (9-0) Bucknell at 7 p.m., both on ESPN+

And that’s the report.


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