Broncs gain MAAC bye, but lose Lopez

By Thomas Regan and Carlos Toro

The men’s basketball team clinched a first-round bye for the MAAC Championship with a win against Quinnipiac on Feb. 19, but a Niagara team that entered play in last place in the conference snapped Rider’s five-game winning streak on Feb. 21.

Rider (19-10, 13-5 MAAC) entered the game against Quinnipiac on a four-game win streak.

The first several minutes of the opening half were competitive, but a 3-pointer from junior guard Teddy Okereafor with 11:42 left in the first half ignited a 10-0 run.

Quinnipiac (14-13, 8-10 MAAC) tried to get back in the game, but couldn’t get close, as the first half ended 41-31.

Rider’s lead continued to grow in the second half, reaching 22 points following a layup by sophomore forward Xavier Lundy with 14:45 remaining in the contest.

However, senior center Matt Lopez crashed into the base of the basket and left with an apparent knee injury, while the referees called a technical against Head Coach Kevin Baggett, who was looking for a foul on the play. Lopez did not return, finishing with 8 points and five rebounds.

Without Lopez, the Broncs allowed the Bobcats to claw their way back into the game, getting within 3 points of Rider at 74-71 with 5:23 remaining in the game. However, sophomore guard Jimmie Taylor’s 22 points and Okereafor’s 21 points helped seal the 94-83 victory.

The game against Niagara (6-21, 5-13 MAAC) started with another back-and-forth battle in which the Purple Eagles took advantage of Rider without Lopez, who was held out of the game.

Niagara redshirt sophomore guard Emile Blackman made an early 3-point shot to tie the game at 11 with 15:44 remaining in the first half. After the Broncs retook the lead, Blackman sank another 3-pointer to momentarily give Niagara a 14-13 lead. The first half ended tied at 35-35.

Lundy and Taylor scored the first 6 points of the second half, but Blackman, who entered the game averaging 13 points per game, continued to give the Broncs trouble, scoring 7 unanswered points to reclaim the lead with 14:49 left in the game.

Rider eventually went up 49-47 with a little more than 10 minutes remaining until 5 more points from Blackman led Niagara on a 10-0 scoring run.

The Purple Eagles went up 59-51 with just over three minutes remaining, when Rider scored 7 unanswered points to pull within one with 28 seconds remaining. Blackman then sank four of Niagara’s final six free throws to clinch the 63-58 upset.

Okereafor explained that the loss to Niagara was a wake-up call for the Broncs.

“We got two games left before the MAAC Tournament and we have to focus on defense,” Okereafor said. “Today was a reminder that any team can beat you.”

With two games remaining, Rider is one of five teams with a first-round bye. The Broncs will travel to Monmouth (16-12, 12-5 MAAC) to face off against the third-place team on Feb. 26. Then they return home for their final regular season game against Marist (5-22, 4-13 MAAC) on March 1. However, Rider may be without Lopez, who underwent an MRI on Feb. 24 and is listed as day-to-day.

Baggett believes his team must regroup and return to the basics in order to finish the season strong.

“We just got to refocus, and I think this game against Niagara got our guys’ attention,” Baggett said. “We have to go back and do what we have always been doing well all year long.”

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button