By Carolo Pascale
When a team deals with a losing skid, it can drag morale down and hurts the team as a whole. But when it’s broken, it can light a fire under the team to play to its potential. And for the Rider men’s basketball team, it finally broke its four game losing streak, earning a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory over the Niagara Purple Eagles 70-67 on Jan. 23.
“I’m hoping a game like today would be a game that you can build on,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett., “When you’re doing the right things that guys are getting after, I just think we earned it and we deserved to win this game.”
The first half started pretty average for the Broncs as it was a back and forth for the first few minutes. But something that Rider has seen happen too many times this season reared its disastrous head once again, as the Purple Eagles charged back with a massive 24-8 run during the middle of the half.
The shooting was the main issue once again for the Broncs as the poor form seen early in the season returned. With just over five minutes left in the first half, Rider had shot just 5-for-23 from the field and 0-for-4 from the 3-point line. Meanwhile, Niagara shot an incredible 11-for-18 from the field and 7-for-12 from the three to that point.
By the end of the first half, the Broncs had dug themselves into a difficult 17-point hole. Graduate student Dimencio Vaughn and junior forward Mervin James led the Broncs with eight points each. Senior guard Dwight Murray Jr., who scored 27 points in the team’s previous game against Canisius on Jan. 21, was locked down by the Purple Eagles and scored zero points in the half.
The second half started much better for the Broncs, playing harder defensively and finally seeing a return to form in the shooting department. After a missed dunk by the Purple Eagles, the Broncs went on a ridiculous 23-to-5 point run that spanned nearly 10 minutes to take the lead 48-47 off a Powell layup with 11:46 to go.
“The defence led the offence. Everybody was getting hyped and everybody was locked in,” said Powell.
The long run continued as the Broncs looked like a completely different team on both ends of the ball. All of the energy had swung in favor of the Broncs, but of course Niagara wasn’t going to make it easy as they pushed back after looking dead in the water.
Despite Niagara’s efforts, the Broncs continued to push forward on the backs of James, Vaughn and junior guard Allen Powell, all of which notched double-digit points before there were even 10 minutes left to go in the game. But Vaughn, who secured himself another double-double, fouled out with just over three minutes left to go which made Baggett incensed on the bench.
The game came down to the wire however, as Niagara cut the lead to two with just six seconds to go, but the dagger in the heart of the Purple Eagles came off a Powell free throw and the Eagles couldn’t bury the last chance shot, giving the Broncs their second conference win of the season with a final score of 70-67.
“It’s definitely a sense of relief. We left it all on the floor,” said Powell.
Four of the five starters for the Broncs hit double-digit points, with Powell and James leading the Broncs at 17 points each. Murray, after not scoring at all in the first half, finished the game with 11 points. The Broncs as a whole shot way better in the second half, going 16-for-30 from the field and 2-for-3 from the 3-point line.
“We’re going to take our defence from this game into the next game and plan as a team to share the ball because when we do that we play great basketball,” said James.
The Broncs will now have a full four day break before their next game back at Alumni Gym when they take on Fairfield on Jan. 28 at 7 pm. The game will be streamed on ESPN 3.