By Carolo Pascale
Stunned and speechless are two words that best describe how the Broncs felt as they fell 60-59 to the Delaware Blue Hens in the final seconds of their Dec. 19 matchup.
Head Coach Kevin Baggett was a man of few words after the loss.
“It was a heartbreaker. We outplayed them. We just didn’t execute down the stretch.” said Baggett.
It was essentially a one possession game for the whole 40 minutes of action. Rider had the better outing in most areas, but didn’t get the winning result due to a foul with nine seconds left on senior forward Mervin James that gave possession back to Delaware, who won the game on a layup with just three seconds left.
The foul, which was James’ fifth of the game, was a very close call that could have swung in either direction. Unfortunately, it swung the wrong way for Rider.
Before that call, the rest of the game had been good for the Broncs. Facing the reigning Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Champions Blue Hens, the Broncs had a solid first half, leading by as much as seven with about 11 minutes left in the half.
Rider’s lead stemmed from stout defensive play that limited chances for Delaware. The Broncs were playing a modified zone that kept the Blue Hens outside and allowed for many double team opportunities.
At the end of the first half, Rider had two big chances denied by Delaware. The first one was on a near completely open layup by senior guard Allen Powell that was blocked off the glass, and the second was on the rebound as graduate student forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson couldn’t get it to fall at the buzzer. The first half ended 30-28 in favor of the Broncs.
The second half played much differently than the first. As both teams came out flying, Rider’s defense was a bit out of sorts, highlighted by a major error that allowed a monster dunk by Delaware’s Jameer Nelson Jr. to be hung on their heads.
Afterwards, the second half was very back and forth with several ties and lead changes as the minutes continued to count down.
With under four minutes to go, Rider got antsy, commiting three offensive fouls in straight possessions that seemed to be a bit of a turning point.
The Broncs held a one point, 59-58 lead and got a huge out of bounds call in their favor with 59 seconds left. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to do anything with it, but were saved by an astonishing and a potentially game-saving block by James with 13 seconds left to go.
Rider got the rebound and a timeout was called, so they had to inbound. On it, the ball got deflected off a Blue Hen causing the Broncs to set up to do it again with nine seconds left. On the play, James ran into a Blue Hen who stepped right in front of him as he was looking for the pass and it was called an offensive foul.
The Broncs bench and fans at Alumni Gym were screaming, but as James sat down on the bench after his fifth foul, play resumed and the Blue Hens were able to put back a layup with three seconds remaining that sent the Broncs to the locker room in heartbreak.
“We just had to execute towards the end. A rough call towards the end too, but that’s basketball. I hate that we lost that way,” said senior guard Dwight Murray Jr., who led the Broncs with a 21 point, 8-for-17 from the field outing.
The Broncs will be back at Alumni Gym on Dec. 22 when they face off against Marist in game number two of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be streamed on ESPN+.