By Austin Ferguson
A physical scuffle between the two teams in the second half highlighted the men’s basketball team’s 85-77 win over Siena on Jan. 5.
Following back-to-back road losses to end 2019 and the out-of-conference schedule, Rider returned home to continue Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play against Siena.
The Broncs dropped their last two games of the 2019 calendar year to Temple on Dec. 21 and Wisconsin on Dec. 31. Rider scored a program-low 37 points against Wisconsin in its New Year’s Eve matchup.
Rider’s MAAC game against Siena was the second of its conference schedule. The Broncs defeated Marist, 74-64, on Dec. 16.
Siena entered the contest with four players averaging double figures in scoring, led by graduate transfer forward Elijah Barnes and sophomore guard and MAAC Preseason Player of the Year Jalen Pickett, both averaging over 16 points per game.
The Saints had also won their first two MAAC matchups against Canisius and Monmouth respectively. Rider’s win ended the Saints’ hopes for their first 3-0 start in conference play since the 2009-10 season.
“These guys won the game,” said Rider Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “It wasn’t about the coaching. It was about these guys hitting free throws, getting stops, being a team, doing the things that we needed.”
With an exception to an early layup from freshman guard Christian Ings, it was Siena that took advantage early behind points from Pickett and junior guard Manny Camper.
Redshirt junior forward Dimencio Vaughn quickly took matters into his own hands and scored the next five points for the Broncs to tie the game at seven just four minutes into the game. Rider and Siena traded baskets and headed to the first media break with the Saints guarding a 11-9 lead.
The next four minutes were marked by a strong Rider defense. The Broncs were also able to add a pair of baskets from Vaughn and Ings before the 12-minute mark to take a four-point lead into the second break.
Three point shooting slowly brought Siena back into the game. Siena guard Donald Carey, Jr.’s second three-point shot of the game gave the Saints a 23-22 lead with nine minutes to spare in the first half.
The final minutes of the half produced a close game, though Siena was able to take a six point lead, the largest of the half, with a minute to go. A three pointer from senior guard Stevie Jordan, a fadeaway jumper from Siena’s Pickett and a layup by Jordan to beat the buzzer brought the score to 40-37 in Siena’s advantage at halftime.
The story of the first half was the offensive matchup between Pickett and Vaughn. Both players scored 15 points in the first period, both team highs for the half. The difference maker was both teams’ secondary scorers. The Saints had a second player in double figures in Camper with 10 points, while the Broncs’ next best scorer was Jordan, who scored all five of his first-half points in the last minute of the period.
Rider also found issues with ball security. The Broncs turned the ball over 11 times in the first half. Though Siena turned it over nine times itself in that span, the Saints were bailed out with 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc, led by Pickett’s four threes in the first period.
Jordan picked up from where he left off in the second half, hitting a quick three to tie the game at 40. Tough inside play and a layup from redshirt junior forward Frederick Scott gave Rider the lead in the first 90 seconds of the half.
It was a flurry of layups from both sides over the next few minutes and one-point leads were exchanged until the Broncs were able to make a few consecutive stops. Jordan took advantage of the strong defense with a layup to give Rider a brief three-point lead.
After a layup from Pickett brought the game back within one, Scott nailed a shot from behind the arc and the Broncs were able to garner their largest lead of the game to that point, up 53-49.
Out of the first media break of the half, Scott quickly found himself open again, this time for an easy dunk to put Rider up by six.
After a Jordan three-pointer put the Broncs up nine, Siena returned with three straight baskets to bring the contest back within one.
The Broncs put a stop to the eight-point skid with an explosive drive to the basket from Ings. He drew a foul as he went up for a layup and made it to put Rider back up by three.
Vaughn started his second-half scoring with a three-pointer that put the Broncs up 63-57 with just over 10 minutes in the half.
Following a quiet minute of basketball, Vaughn drilled another three to match the game-high nine point lead Rider held earlier in the half.
Another defensive stop for the Broncs opened the door to a fastbreak foul to Jordan to send him to the free-throw line. Jordan hit both shots from the charity stripe to produce the first double-digit lead of the game.
A back-and-forth exchange in scoring that brought Rider’s lead down to nine points ended up seeing a back-and-forth shoving match between Scott and Siena guard Gary Harris, Jr. which spilled into the second row of the stands. After the dust settled, both Harris and Scott were assessed flagrant fouls and ejected from the game.
On their way out to the locker room, Scott and Harris crossed paths, which led to more jawing from both parties. A Rider University Public Safety officer had to restrain Harris on his way out after he had stopped to participate in a shouting match with a spectator.
The game continued with six minutes left following the skirmish and Rider looked to close out and end Siena’s four-game winning streak.
In the final stretch of the game, Siena slowly chipped away at the Broncs’ lead. With a minute and a half to go in the game, Siena guard Jordan King hit a three to narrow the Broncs’ lead to just one.
Jordan managed to draw a foul out of a timeout for Rider. The senior guard made one of his two free throws to extend the Broncs’ lead to two.
On the other end of the court, Pickett attempted a layup that was blocked by Vaughn. Jordan secured the ball, drew the foul and ended up on the free-throw line again. Jordan made both free throws, and the Broncs’ lead was up to four with a minute to go.
Siena came back down and scored to put the game back within two, and it was up to Ings to hit two crucial free throws to ice the game. Ings only hit one of those free throws, and the door was still open for Siena.
With 40 seconds remaining, Carey put up a three-point shot and missed it. Vaughn, who secured the board off of the miss, took a foul and made two free throws to make it a two-possession game.
Burns quickly found himself wide open in the paint and slammed it to shorten Siena’s deficit to three with 30 seconds left on the clock.
After a Rider timeout, it was Vaughn again that was sent to the free throw line by Siena. Vaughn sank both shots with ease to put the Broncs up five.
The Broncs sailed into the final buzzer and won, 85-77.
On top of the team’s strong defensive efforts and late-game free throw making, it was Vaughn that was the shining star of the contest. Vaughn had a game-high 27 points, coupled with Jordan scoring 23 of his own.
Vaughn said, “We needed this win. It was a big win and a statement win for our conference.”
Baggett gave thanks to Vaughn for his performance against Siena.
“Thank goodness for Dimencio being the player that he was two years [ago] … he showed it again why he’s one of the best players in the league,” Baggett said.
The Broncs also turned things around from deep in the second half, finishing the contest with a 43.8% mark from beyond the arc.
Rider’s next contest is on the road as it will take on another fierce conference competitor in Quinnipiac on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.
Vaughn said, “We’re on the road and we have to lock in again, get this win again.”