By Rob Rose
Despite another strong second-half performance, the men’s basketball team suffered its first loss in conference play after a 5-0 start in a 77-71 defeat at three-time defending MAAC Champions, Iona, on Jan. 25.
“We lacked discipline when we needed to execute,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett in his postgame radio interview.
Down by two with 16 seconds left, junior guard Stevie Jordan stepped up to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game. Jordan, Rider’s best free-throw shooter entering the game at 74 percent, missed the first before he connected on the second. The Broncs rank 344 out of 351 Division I teams in free throw percentage at 61 percent this season.
Rider had battled back after it trailed trailed by nine with 1:33 left in the game, and came back from a 16-point deficit in the first half.
As had been the case for much of this season, Rider got out to slow start. Iona took a double-digit lead early and carried a 12-point advantage into halftime. The Broncs have scored 27 less points than their opponents in the first halves of MAAC games this season.
“We didn’t show up with the right mindset,” said Baggett. “We let them throw the punches first. They were the aggressors.”
The second half, also like the previous five conference games, was a different story. After Rider scored 29 points before the half, it had 26 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Broncs started the half with a 14-5 run to cut into the Gaels’ lead.
After they trailed for the entire first half, the Broncs took their first lead on a pair of free throws by sophomore guard Jordan Allen. The sharpshooter poured in 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the contest.
Iona responded and took the lead back a minute later, which began a back-and-forth game the rest of the way. Both teams traded baskets as neither squad led by more than four points until a 6-0 spurt by the Gaels gave Iona a nine-point lead with under two minutes remaining.
Sophomore forwards Frederick Scott and Dimencio Vaughn added 14 and 11 points, respectively. Along with Jordan, who had 14, and Allen’s 15, the quartet combined for 54 points and carried a Rider offense that connected on just 37 percent of its field goal attempts in the game.
Each team battled foul trouble for one of its star players in the contest. Iona’s Tajuan Agee, who fueled the Gaels early with 16 points and eight rebounds and junior guard Stevie Jordan both picked up their fourth foul early in the second half. Agee was stuck on the bench for most of the second half and played just 24 minutes, while Jordan was too important to the Broncs and logged 37 minutes.
Rider returns home for a matchup with Marist on Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. The game can be streamed on ESPN3.
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