By Brandon Scalea and Thomas Albano
The men’s basketball team kicked off its 2014-15 regular season on the road against two Ivy League teams, facing Princeton on Nov. 14 before taking on the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) on Nov. 18.
The Broncs (1-1) picked up a 73-57 victory against UPenn (0-2) in Philadelphia, Pa., thanks to a standout performance by junior guard Zedric Sadler.
Sadler had 23 points in the victory, a career-high, going 7 for 9 in field goals and a perfect 4 for 4 from beyond the arc.
Other top performances from Rider included sophomore guard Jimmie Taylor, who finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and junior guard Khalil Alford, who had 10 points and five rebounds.
While the Broncs did not shoot well overall against the Quakers, only making 52 percent of its field goals, the team made 10 of its 18 3-point shots.
They also drew more fouls and, consequently, had more free throws than in the game against Princeton (1-1). However, making the foul shots was an issue, as the team was only 2 for 4 against the Tigers and 11 for 19 against the Quakers. In fact, the free throw trouble contributed to the 64-58 loss at Princeton.
Following the game against the Tigers, Head Coach Kevin Baggett commented on the lack of foul shots by his team and made it clear it was unacceptable.
“It made a huge difference,” Baggett said. “We scored 36 points in the paint, so I don’t know how we only had four free throws.”
Four days earlier, fans of both schools packed Jadwin Gymnasium on the Princeton campus and saw a game that featured seven lead changes. Princeton sophomore forward Spencer Weisz scored 18 points, leading the Tigers to the victory.
Junior guard Teddy Okereafor, in his debut as a Bronc, led the team with 16 points, four assists and four rebounds.
“I just wanted to come out aggressive and set the tone for my team,” said Okereafor. “My coaches and teammates did a great job of building my confidence and telling me to play with a chip on my shoulder.”
Also making his Rider debut was 7-foot senior center Matt Lopez, who sat out last season after transferring from Utah State. He finished the game with 8 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes of action.
Other notable performances for the Broncs were by Taylor, a preseason All-MAAC selection who compiled 6 points and two rebounds, as well as Sadler, who had 9 points with four rebounds and four assists.
The first half of the contest was very low scoring. The Broncs shot only 35.7 percent in the first half, as well as going only 3 of 9 from beyond the arc. Junior forward Hans Brase dominated the paint for the Tigers, grabbing five rebounds and adding 10 points in the first 20 minutes of play. At halftime, Princeton jogged off the court enjoying a 28-25 lead.
Baggett looked to shift the momentum in the second half, and he did that right out of the gate.
“We tried to change the tempo in our favor in the second half,” Baggett said. “It helped us get back in the game.”
Okereafor and Lopez led Rider on a 14-2 run to start the half, propelling the Broncs to a 39-30 lead with about 14 minutes remaining.
Princeton battled back, however, and a couple of buckets by freshman guard Amir Bell left the game tied at 47 with 7:17 left.
After a timeout, Lopez grabbed two offensive rebounds in the same play, finally putting home the second one, to put Rider back on top. But was the last offensive spark for the Broncs.
Princeton went on an 11-2 run, featuring 6 points from Weisz, who also added nine foul shots. The dominant stretch for the Tigers gave them a 58-51 lead within the final three minutes.
The Broncs tried to respond, but it was simply too little, too late. They pulled within 2, but Princeton was able to put the game away at the foul line.
It was the 11th win for Princeton in 14 tries against Rider. The teams have been playing each other since 1931. The last time the Broncs defeated the Tigers was during the 2002-03 season.
Rider opens up at home against Lehigh on Nov. 21.