Friday, March 7, 2014

Rider, Mason Shoot Way Past Fairfield's Zone

Good shooters never mind it when an opponent plays zone defense against their team.

And, so it was in Friday's MAAC tournament semifinal round game for Rider's 5-foot-9 freshman guard Stephanie Mason.

"When they went to a zone in the second half," said Mason, about a Fairfield defensive switch in Friday's contest, "my eyes lit up."

It didn't matter that Mason was 0-for-4 from the field against Fairfield's early game man-to-man defense. Or that she was lightly used of late, playing on three minutes in the previous day's opening-round victory over Saint Peter's.

"I'm a shooter, so I'm going to keep shooting even if I miss some early," said Mason.

But, against the zone, she didn't miss any, making four key second-half three-pointers that helped her team rally from an 11-point deficit with 10:28 remaining for a 63-56 upset victory over the No. 3-seeded Stags.

The first of her treys pulled the Broncs to within 43-37. Teamate MyNeshia McKenzie (who had game-high totals of 28 points and 16 rebounds) then added a driving bucket and two free throws to narrow the gap to 45-41.

And, then, the sweet-shooting Mason went to work again, connecting on bonus shots on her team's next three possessions. When her long-range shooting exhibition was over Rider had a 50-46 lead with under four minutes remaining and Fairfield never led again.

Fairfield coach Joe Frager said he would have preferred to have remained in a man-coverage defense, but foul trouble to some of his key players precipitated the defensive change in order to protect players from committing more fouls.

"To be honest, we lost her a couple of times in the zone, and that's not us," said Frager. "We tried to squeeze as much from our zone defense as we could, and we probably stayed in it two or three possessions too long."

By then Mason, who scored all 14 of her points in the game's final 8:20, did more than enough damage and helped give her team two victories in any year's MAAC tournament since Rider joined the conference in 1997.

Next up for Rider is a semifinal-round meeting Sunday at 1:30 p.m. against Marist, which has won the MAAC event for the past eight seasons.

"We all put our heart and soul into this program, and as long as I can work with this group I don't want it to end," said Rider coach Lynn Milligan.

"There's no pressure on us. We'll show up on Sunday and put on our uniform one leg and one arm at a time, just like Marist. I know we'll come out ready and I know we're going to be ready for a battle on Sunday."

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