Broncs in the thick of conference clash

Junior guard Teddy Okereafor recorded his first double-double and led Rider to a 58-49 victory over St. Peter’s on Jan. 29. The win puts the Broncs in a battle for the top of the conference.
Junior guard Teddy Okereafor recorded his first double-double and led Rider to a 58-49 victory over St. Peter’s on Jan. 29. The win puts the Broncs in a battle for the top of the conference.

By Thomas Regan

On the heels of a home victory over Canisius, and in the middle of a three-way, second-place tie with Monmouth and Manhattan, the men’s basketball team went on the road and defeated St. Peter’s on Jan. 29, but lost to Siena on Feb. 2.

In the opening half against St. Peter’s (16-6, 9-2 MAAC), Rider moved out to an 18-10 lead, but fell behind 21-20 after St. Peter’s went on a run of its own. Not to be outdone, the Broncs’ second leading scorer, junior guard Teddy Okereafor, hit two free throws followed by a three-pointer to give Rider (14-9, 8-4 MAAC) a 25-21 lead.

However, with just four seconds left on the clock, the Peacocks stole the ball from sophomore guard Jimmie Taylor and capitalized with a layup, leading to a 25-23 score at the end of the first half.

Rider lost the lead early in the second half after St. Peter’s senior guard Desi Washington hit a three-pointer to give the Peacocks a 26-25 lead. The game continued in back-and-forth fashion with Rider getting most of their opportunities off foul shots, an area Head Coach Kevin Baggett stressed in practice.

“Offensively it was to get to the free-throw line, which we shot two for two the first half and then the second half we shot 28 free throws,” Baggett said. “It was to be more aggressive in the paint whether we threw it into our big guys or whether we drove it in, we wanted to be the aggressors the second half and once we did that, we got to the free throw line and I thought that gave us confidence.”

With the Broncs out in front 52-49, they made their final six free throws, securing the 58-49 victory. Okereafor, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds, tried to remain as active as possible throughout the game.

“I just stay aggressive and try to finish every defensive possession with a rebound,” Okereafor said. “Making sure I was in the mix when a shot went up and then just getting to the ball first.”

After the win, Rider traveled to Albany to take on Siena (9-12, 6-6 MAAC) and put on an offensive show early in the game, taking a commanding 20-4 lead. However, the Broncs were only able to muster a few opportunities, while committing multiple fouls, and allowed the Saints to go on a 26-3 run to put Rider down by 4.

Okereafor thought he and his teammates played well early, but made mistakes that allowed the Saints to get back into the game.

“I think we were executing early and getting into the paint and to the free throw line,” Okereafor said. “We were effective when we were able to break the press. A couple defensive breakdowns ended up having a snowball effect.”

The Broncs battled back and took the lead thanks to junior guard Zedric Sadler’s three-pointer with six seconds remaining in the half to go ahead 34-32.

For most of the second half, Rider did not come within five points of Siena until Taylor hit a three-pointer to bring the team within two. However, the Saints answered with a three-pointer of their own, and the Broncs could not close the gap, eventually losing the game 79-72.

Baggett believes that his team did not attack well, explaining that Siena simply outplayed them.

“Give them credit, they did a good job getting back in the game and I thought they were the aggressors last night — we weren’t. We played on our heels and we certainly didn’t defend the way we normally defend as a team, so we had too many breakdowns altogether defensively and that’s what ultimately cost us the game.”

Vying for a top spot in the MAAC, Rider will host Fairfield and Manhattan on Feb. 5 and 8. Baggett knows neither game will be easy, but both are important if the team wants to stay near the top.

“I expect it to be two hard games, both of those teams are capable of winning,” Baggett said. “Obviously, we beat them, but they don’t forget and they’re going to be ready to play us. We are coming off of a loss and I’m hoping we don’t have a hangover over it. We got to get back to winning. It’s good to be home and we got to win at home. It’s going to be two hard-fought games that we really need if we want to stay at the top of the league. We just have to take it one game at a time.”

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