By Rob Rose
After a five-game losing streak sent the squad sliding down the conference standings, the men’s basketball team responded with a pair of victories over in-state rivals. Rider defeated Monmouth, 81-72, on Feb. 15 at home before a 71-65 road win over St. Peter’s on Feb. 17.
This season, Rider has been plagued by slow starts by being forced to comeback in a majority of its conference games. Against Monmouth, that was not the case. The Broncs used the collapse late against Quinnipiac on Feb. 12 to fuel an inspired effort against the team that started their five-game losing streak earlier this month.
“It’s a point [the players] made,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “Give our guys credit. Sometimes it’s not even about the coaching, it’s about the players.”
Rider jumped out to a 7-0 run early and used its full-court press to create easy scoring chances. The Broncs rank ninth among Division I teams in steals per game at 9.2 and suffocated the Hawks ball handlers throughout the game. With 15 steals and 25 points off turnovers, Rider was able to keep Monmouth at a distance and never trailed in the game.
Although they never trailed, the Broncs needed a big second half from the man who has become their most consistent scorer this season. Sophomore forward Frederick Scott, the 2017-18 MAAC Sixth Player of the Year, and his 12.5 points per game, has led Rider this season.
Scott scored a team-high 21 points in the win and had 16 of those points after halftime. The forward posted double-digit scoring efforts in 19 of the Broncs’ 28 games this season.
“Just staying aggressive,” said Scott of his mindset in the second half. “My teammates know what I can bring. I feel like my role is to play hard for my team and bring it.”
Junior center Tyere Marshall chipped 13 points in 12 second-half minutes en route to a double-double performance with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Baggett switched up his starting lineup prior to the game against Monmouth. Junior guard Kimar Williams returned to the starting unit while sophomore forward Dimencio Vaughn came off the bench and scored 11 points with four steals.
“Nothing to read into,” said Baggett on why Vaughn, a 2017-18 All-MAAC First Team member, wasn’t starting.
After it broke out of its five-game skid, Rider set its sights on a season sweep of St. Peter’s. The Broncs took the first matchup on Jan. 31, 59-51, at Alumni Gym.
Junior guard Stevie Jordan started off the game with a pair of three-pointers for six of his 12 points. Jordan also grabbed five rebounds and blocked a season-high three shots.
Marshall followed up his strong showing against Monmouth with the his best game in cranberry and white. The Broncs’ center went to work early and often against the Peacocks and posted a career-high 25 points to go with a season-high 14 rebounds.
St. Peter’s threw everything it had at Marshall, including its 7-foot-1-inch, 215-pound center Majur Majak. Majak and forward Samuel Idowu, who ranked third in the MAAC in blocks per game, were no match for Marshall as he owned the paint and recorded his third double-double of the year.
Despite the dominant performance by Marshall, the contest was back-and-forth throughout, and Rider took a three-point advantage into halftime at 31-28.
An 8-0 spurt to open the second half created separation for Rider and it wouldn’t look back. The lead swelled as high as 18 points midway through the half and the Broncs were able to survive a late run by the Peacocks to cut into the deficit.
Sophomore guard Jordan Allen, a 2017-18 All-MAAC Third Team member, played five minutes and didn’t score. His usual minutes went to junior guard Ahmad Gilbert who had previously struggled to find a role on the team after transferring from Minnesota. Gilbert hit a pair of three-pointers for six points against St. Peter’s after he hit from beyond the arc once against Monmouth.
“It’s just a feel,” said Baggett after the Monmouth game. “Ahmad has been giving us some solid minutes. I thought Jordan [Allen] was struggling. But we need him.”
Following a weekend of upsets in the MAAC, where three of the four top-ranked teams lost, the Broncs’ two-game win streak propelled them up to the No. 3 spot. With only one game separating the No. 1 and No. 6 seeds, the conference is once again wide open for the taking as March approaches.
In the MAAC tournament, the top five teams received first-round byes and, with three games left for Rider, it could finish the season anywhere from the No. 1 seed to the No. 8 spot.
Last season, despite earning the No. 1 seed, Rider became the first top seed to lose to a team ranked No. 9 in St. Peter’s.
Rider returns home for a rematch with Niagara, who enter with a 12-15 (5-9 MAAC) record. The Broncs scored a season-high 104 points in a 20-point victory over Niagara on Jan. 13.
The game is set for 7 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN+.
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