NOTEBOOK: Broncs lose five of six on the road
By Carolo Pascale
Nonconference play comes to a close as the Broncs win just one of their last six on an extended road trip that took them as far north as Buffalo, New York, and as far south as Riviera Maya, Mexico. Rider played six games in just 14 days, and with Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play on the horizon, it definitely gave the Broncs time to face some top level competition.
Hitting the road
The Broncs started off their long road trip by playing against Bucknell on Nov. 17. Despite senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. having a career night, scoring 30 points and 13 rebounds and the Broncs fell short 81-74.
“We need to get some guys off the bench to give us good minutes and we need our best players to be our best players,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett.
Sophomore forward also Nehemiah Benson set a career high in points as well with eight and played a career high of 20 minutes.
“I’m just getting better day by day,” said Benson.
The team also got into foul trouble as Benson and junior forward Mervin James fouled out and senior forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson had four fouls.
“We’ve got to get better, which we will,” said Baggett.
South of the border
After the loss against Bucknell the Broncs got right back to it, facing the Buffalo Bulls in their first game of the Cancun Challenge on Nov. 20. The Broncs would fall in this one as well, 87-65, suffering their first consecutive losses of the season.
This was the first time this season the Broncs were trailing at the end of the first half and the first time they were outrebounded.
Sophomore guard Corey McKeithan led the Broncs with a career-high 13 points, going 6-for-8 from the field and 1-for-1 from the 3-point line.
Rider’s second game of the Cancun Challenge was against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 23, which the Broncs dropped, for their third straight loss, 60-54. Murray and graduate student forward Dimencio Vaughn led the Broncs with 13 points each.
The Broncs did go on an impressive run in the first half, outscoring Middle Tennessee 31-11 after a rough start, but faltered in the second half.
“I am trying to find 40 consistent minutes from start to finish,” said Baggett.
The Broncs were without Ogemuno-Johnson for this game and the next due to a visa issue that hindered him from playing in the games in Mexico.
The Broncs’ third and final game of the Cancun Challenge was against Bucknell once again on Nov. 24. This time the Broncs were able to hold on and secure the win 85-79, their first in three games.
“We knew we needed to have this game. We went in at halftime and said we needed to do whatever we needed to do to win,” said Baggett.
James had a great night for the Broncs, scoring 23 points in just 21 minutes, before fouling out again.
“I was just trying to get outside of myself. There wasn’t anybody holding me back but myself,” said James. “I was in my head. I talked to my family and said some prayers and got myself right.”
Along with James, four other players scored double digit points.
Once the Cancun Challenge ended, the Broncs traveled to the southeast to take on South Carolina on Nov 28. The Broncs looked sharp for much of the game but lost 65-58.
The Broncs led at the end of the 1st half 28-25, with Powell leading the Broncs in points with seven.
Despite working hard for that lead, South Carolina kept pushing and eventually went on a pivotal 24-6 run that ultimately won them the game.
“We just haven’t been able to close out games enough,” said Baggett, “It’s a learning process.”
The Broncs faced foul trouble again with Ogemuno-Johnson and James fouling out. This was the third straight game that James had fouled out and his fifth time in eight games.
After the loss to South Carolina, the Broncs faced off against Ole Miss on Nov. 30, losing 75-51.
Rider once again competed in the first half but the second half was the downfall yet again. The Broncs went down by as much as 29, but would bring the deficit back down to 24.
“It’s a mindset. When you’re down you just have to keep competing,” Baggett said, “You’ve got to give your team a chance.”
Gaels up next
The Broncs end their long seven-game road trip with their first MAAC play game of the season against last season’s champion and this year’s favorite, the Iona Gaels. The Gaels, who have looked even stronger than last year, already have several statement wins under their belt this season, capped with a win over an Alabama team that was ranked 10th at the time.
“We have to prepare the same we do for every opponent. It’s a league game, but it’s no different,” said Baggett.
With Iona looking to win their seventh MAAC Championship in nine years, and start another streak of repeat championships, Rider faces one of its toughest opponents of the season on Dec. 3 at 7 pm.