By Carolo Pascale
The early days of 2023 continue to treat Rider unkindly, with the Broncs falling to the Quinnipiac Bobcats 72-63 in their first home game of the new year on Jan. 6.
A foul-filled, defensively broken second half is what sank the Broncs, with Head Coach Kevin Baggett calling the loss as a whole, an embarrassment.
“Not a good second half, embarrassing in fact,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “Poor execution, poor rebounding, poor defense. Embarrassing.”
Coming into the game, the Broncs received bad news:they would be without star senior guard Dwight Murray Jr., with multiple reports saying the cause was concussion protocol. Murray, the team’s leading scorer, was sorely missed in the match, despite some great efforts from senior forward Mervin James and senior guard Allen Powell.
With Murray not in the lineup, junior guard Corey McKeithan filled the hole at starting point guard. McKeithan, who Baggett called “the guard of the future” before the season, did a decent job filling in for Murray.
McKeithan’s performance didn’t come on the offensive side like Murray’s usually does, but defensively, McKeithan was solid, providing tough coverage and breaking up plays during his season-high 31 minutes on the floor.
The first half saw some great moments from the Broncs, with McKeithan, Powell and James all being a part of most of them. Powell and James were on fire offensively, while McKeithan helped lockdown Quinnipiac at the point.
The Broncs defense was good in the first half, with several players making crucial plays and battling hard to make stops.
On the offensive side, the Broncs were getting help from their bench, with graduate student forward Zahrion Blue nailing a ridiculous fading shot over two Bobcats with 2:47 left in the first half.
Rider held a 36-31 lead after the first half, with James leading with 13 points while Powell had 12. Rider shot an impressive 53.6% from the field in the half, highlighted by Powell shooting 5-for-7 and James shooting 6-for-8.
However, the second half was essentially a collapse for the Broncs. Both the stout defensive play and the scoring dried up, sealing the Broncs’ fate for the night.
“We just panicked,” said James. “We should have stayed more poised down that stretch of the game.”
It was still close until the Bobcats splashed three consecutive threes on the Broncs heads, giving them a 56-48 lead that they would never look back from.
Quinnipiac got their lead as high as 12, but the Broncs did get a spark in the half from sophomore guard Adetokunbo Bakare who shot 3-for-6, with all three buckets being from behind the arc, but it wouldn’t be enough.
Foul trouble also played a major factor in the second half, with Rider taking an outrageous 14 fouls in the half, nearly tripling it’s first half total of five. McKeithan, James and graduate student forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson all finished with four fouls, while Bakare and junior forward Nehemiah Benson finished with three each.
As for why the team struggled so much in the second, Baggett stated it plainly: “Guys gotta listen more. Guys gotta execute what it is that we go over. And they gotta go out there and do it.”
Powell finished with a team-leading season high of 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting with three steals, while James finished with 16 on 6-for-10 shooting. Rider as a whole shot 44.6% from the field.
“We needed to win this game,” said Baggett. “You need to win your home games. It’s that simple.”
The Broncs now fall to 3-2 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play with a tough three game slate ahead of them against the top three teams in the MAAC at the moment, those being Iona, Siena and Niagara.
Rider will face Siena first when the Broncs travel to Albany to take on the Saints on Jan. 8 for a 2 p.m. matinee matchup.