By Carlos Toro
After facing adversity in its past two games, the men’s basketball team is heading to the MAAC Championship with a chip on its shoulder. The Broncs (13-16, 9-11 MAAC) lost both weekend games to extend their skid to four games, losing to Canisius 79-66 on Senior Night on Feb. 28 and to Iona 97-81 on March 2 on the road in a rematch from two weeks ago.
Against Canisius, the game was tied 7-7 with 16:18 left in the first half before Rider surrendered a 7-0 run. Canisius (20-11, 14-6 MAAC) continued to grow its lead to 17 before halftime.
It was no different once the second half began, as Canisius dominated the paint and outscored the Broncs 22-10. Rider could only bring the deficit down to nine as Canisius controlled every aspect of the game. An early 12-4 run from the Broncs in the second half was overshadowed by the play of Canisius’ senior guard Billy Baron, who had 29 points and 10 assists.
Head Coach Kevin Baggett, however, is confident in his team’s ability to get back on the right track.
“We just got to keep coming back,” Baggett said. “We have to keep our heads up.”
The Broncs looked for a quick change of luck as Rider still had a shot at a first round bye in the MAAC Championship. After the loss to Canisius, the Broncs were guaranteed to play in the preliminary game, but their seeding was yet to be determined. Rider needed to win against Iona to finish sixth in the conference, but unfortunately, the struggle on the court continued.
Against Iona (20-9, 17-3 MAAC), the Broncs fell quickly, with the Gaels going on an 11-0 run in the opening minutes. Thirteen minutes into the game, Rider was down 38-16.
The Broncs willed their way back into the game by halftime, going on a 25-7 scoring run to finish the half. Rider managed to tie the game in the second half, but couldn’t go any further. Every time the Broncs got close to the Gaels, Iona pushed the score back up to double digits. It wasn’t until a layup from Iona senior guard Sean Armand with 10:44 remaining in the second half that the Iona lead stayed in double digits.
Senior guard Anthony Myles finished the game with 19 points, while senior forward Danny Stewart added 16 points and 11 rebounds, securing his third double-double of the season and the 16th of his career. Sophomore forward Shawn Valentine scored a career-high 14 points from the bench and freshman guard Jimmie Taylor scored 14 points and had six assists.
Despite an 8-4 start in conference play, the team has lost five straight home games and six out of its last seven. Rider will face Monmouth in the first round of the MAAC Tournament on March 6 at 5 p.m. in Springfield, Mass. The Broncs swept the season series against Monmouth, winning 89-83 on the road in early December before winning again at home, 77-71, in overtime in late January.
Senior guard Tommy Pereria believes the Broncs just need to stay calm and play their game to find success in the MAAC tournament.
“We need to stay composed through the other teams’ runs because it’s going to happen and we need to stay together through adversity,” he said.