By Rob Rose
After a cross-country nonconference schedule where it went 5-7, the men’s basketball team started 2-0 in MAAC play with a 72-67 victory over Quinnipiac on Jan. 5, and used another clutch performance to do so.
“Guys are stepping up when we need them to step up, and helped us to win these first two conference games,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett.
Sophomore guard Jordan Allen hadn’t made a shot from the field, but with the game on the line, answered when his number was called. Allen received a pass from junior guard Stevie Jordan, dribbled into the left corner and knocked down the go-ahead three-pointer to put Rider up 68-65, with 57.5 seconds left.
Allen, who entered the contest as the team’s leading scorer with 13.4 ppg and started all 32 games last season, struggled to get any offense going against Quinnipiac in a reserve role prior to his clutch shot. Allen had four points and was 1-for-8 from the field in 28 minutes after he managed just three points in 13 minutes on Jan. 3.
“Once we get [Allen] back, we’ll be fine,” said Baggett. “He is in the back gym shooting now, but I told him. ‘You will be fine.’ I said to him, ‘You will make a big shot for us to win this game.’”
After Quinnipiac’s Cameron Young converted a difficult shot, junior guard Kimar Williams went to the free-throw line with 27.3 seconds left, up 68-67. Williams hit one free throw and on the ensuing possession grabbed a rebound and was fouled again.
He made the first foul shot, but missed the entire basket on the second and gave Quinnipiac life. After a foul by Jordan, Quinnipiac’s Rich Kelly missed his free throw and graduate student guard Anthony Durham secured the rebound and hit pair of free throws to secure win.
Sophomore forward Dimencio Vaughn missed his fourth-straight game due to an ankle injury he sustained against Northern Colorado on Dec. 22. While Baggett didn’t divulge any timetable for his return, he complimented the work of Rider’s Athletic Trainer, Jacqueline Henry, and said Vaughn should be back “soon.”
Baggett used the same starting lineup that emerged victorious against Fairfield in the MAAC opener on Jan. 3 with sophomore forward Frederick Scott in place of Vaughn, Jordan, Williams, junior center Tyere Marshall and Durham.
Scott, the 2017-18 MAAC Sixth Player of the Year, continued to thrive in place of Vaughn. Since Vaughn’s injury on Dec. 22, Scott had averaged 14.6 ppg and eight rebounds per game (rpg) compared to his 10 ppg and five rpg in his previous eight games and had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebound against Quinnipiac.
The Broncs struggled to defend the three-point line once again. After it allowed Fairfield to hit from beyond the arc 13 times on Jan. 3, Rider conceded 12 three-pointers against Quinnipiac.
Young, the Bobcats’ leading scorer at 18 ppg, knocked down five triples of his own on his way to 24 points.
“We’re working on it,” said Baggett. “We had to make some adjustments on our ball-screen defense. Tonight was the first time we made those adjustments.”
The entire contest was back-and-forth with neither team leading by more than five. For the second-straight game, Rider trailed for majority of the game, but came away with the win.
“This is still, as I said, a work in progress,” said Baggett.
With 1.5 seconds left in the first half, junior guard Ahmad Gilbert launched a missile the length of the court and connected with freshman forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson who caught the ball and finished a layup just in time to beat the halftime buzzer and tie the game at 41-41.
After a difficult nonconference schedule, Rider looks forward to conference play and a chance to improve every day.
“Me and my guys, every day in practice [are] working hard,” said Durham. “So, continue to get better and just keep working.”
Rider will get back to work on Jan. 11 when it travels to Canisius for a battle against the team it shared a Regular-Season MAAC Championship with last year. The game is set for 7 p.m. on Jan. 11 and can be streamed on ESPN+.
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