By Austin Ferguson
Though three other teams largely control its fate, the men’s basketball team wrapped up its own affairs against Manhattan on March 4 in order to ensure a first-round bye.
The only thing that stood in between the Broncs and a guaranteed top-four finish in the conference were the slipping Jaspers.
A 22-9 run in the second half ensured victory for Rider as it handily defeated Manhattan, 71-59.
Senior center Tyere Marshall and redshirt junior forwards Dimencio Vaughn and Frederick Scott led the Broncs on the scoring end. Marshall led all Rider players with 20 points, while Vaughn and Scott scored 18 and 13 respectively.
Entering the game with Manhattan, senior guard Stevie Jordan was tied with Ryan Thompson for the Rider career record in steals with 188. Jordan also stood eight assists behind the Rider record of 598, held by Deon Hames.
Ultimately, Jordan failed to get a steal and fell one assist short of claiming the Rider records. He finished the game with eight points, seven assists and 10 rebounds.
Jordan wasn’t bothered about falling short of new records. He was concerned with winning.
“I’m not worried about [stats],” Jordan said. “We still have other games. I don’t know why I would be worried about stats anyway.”
Rider’s matchup against the Jaspers was senior night. Before the game, Marshall, Jordan, redshirt senior guard Kimar Williams and graduate guard Willy Nuñez, Jr. were honored for their contributions to the program.
“I was just happy for our seniors to go out on a winning note,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “These guys meant a lot to us the last four years, watching these guys grow on and off the court and it’s been fun, it’s been a blessing.”
To go with Rider’s win, Iona and Niagara both lost, meaning the Broncs will finish no lower than fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) standings.
Though the Broncs have off on March 6, the rest of the MAAC’s games will determine where Rider will start come tournament time.
Monmouth defeated Fairfield, which means it must lose against Siena on March 6 in order for Rider to move up to the third seed.
Iona’s loss was important, as Quinnipiac was the team that took advantage of the win, moving it up to fifth in the MAAC. Should Rider remain in fourth, it can now play Iona, Niagara or Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Early in the game against Manhattan, Vaughn went for another one of his signature poster dunks on Manhattan forward Pauly Paulicap, who met him at the rim and rose up for an impressive block.
Despite the early blocked shot, Vaughn used his physicality to take over the Jaspers, scoring eight early points to complement a strong Broncs’ defensive front to give Rider a 13-4 advantage.
Rider’s staunch defense allowed the 13-4 score to remain for over three minutes until a free throw from redshirt sophomore guard Tyrei Randall put the Broncs up by double digits.
A pair of wide-open shots for Manhattan brought it back within five. Rider re-extended its lead to 10. From there, the Jaspers finished the half on a 16-6 run to bring the score to 29-28, with the Broncs clinching onto a one-point lead.
Rider’s biggest shortcomings in the first half were free throws. The Broncs shot a combined 72% from the free-throw line in its past two games but shot just 41.2% from the line in the first half against Manhattan.
Coupled with 10 turnovers, the Broncs’ game had appeared to be falling apart quickly at halftime.
Rider put Manhattan into early foul trouble in the second half, giving the Broncs a chance to redeem themselves from the free-throw line.
Rider took advantage, improving slightly with a 52% mark from the free-throw line in the second half.
Behind free throws and two quickfire three-pointers from redshirt junior forward Frederick Scott, Rider fought its way to a 12-point lead with 14 minutes to go in the game.
Once the Broncs had control of the pace, they never looked back. Rider led by as many as 23 on its way to the 71-59 win to end the regular season.
Headed to the MAAC tournament, Baggett, Jordan and Marshall are imploring Rider’s fans to get to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to support the Broncs’ playoff run.
“We need [the fans] in the worst way,” Baggett said. “They’re unbelievable. They’ve done an unbelievable job here [at home]. To have them travel down [to Atlantic City] and be there for us means everything for us.”
Jordan added, “[The fans] set a great atmosphere [against Monmouth on Feb. 28]. If we can play in that atmosphere every game, especially in Atlantic City, with what’s at stake, that would be great.”
Marshall said, “We would love for them to come out and support… if they come out to Atlantic City, that would be big for us.”
Baggett ended with one last plea.
“We want everybody that can get in a car or pack in [to come]. Do whatever you have to do to come down and support, we need everybody,” Baggett said.