By Austin Ferguson
In a much-needed sweep, the men’s basketball team defeated Canisius and Niagara on Feb. 7 and 9 to move up to first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) standings.
Rider vs. Canisius, Feb. 7
The Broncs hosted Canisius on Feb. 7 after a loss to in-state rival Monmouth, 90-84, on Feb. 2. At Monmouth, four Rider players scored in double figures, led by redshirt junior forward Dimencio Vaughn’s 28 points.
In Rider’s last meeting with Canisius on Jan. 19, the Broncs were able to score 86 points but ultimately allowed 95 points en-route to a loss. Canisius guard Malik Johnson led his team in scoring with 18 points, though Rider senior center Tyere Marshall led all scorers that contest with 31 points.
Unlike the Broncs’ last game against Canisius, both teams were cold to start the contest. After Canisius guard Jordan Henderson scored the first basket, both Rider and the Golden Griffins went one for their next five shots from the field, with Canisius claiming a 6-4 lead through the first media break.
Senior guard Stevie Jordan and Vaughn led the Broncs’ offensive attack over the next series of minutes to establish a Rider lead. Johnson made sure the Golden Griffins did not fall too far behind as the Broncs led 15-10 into the second break.
Both teams went back-and-forth over the next three minutes as Rider maintained a five-point lead, however, Canisius erased the Broncs’ surge in a matter of seconds and peeked ahead, 26-25.
After almost two minutes of scoreless play, Brandon made a free throw to extend the Golden Griffins’ lead to two.
Freshman guard Allen Powell made back-to-back 3-pointers to re-establish one-point leads for the Broncs, though Canisius was hot on their tails to maintain its advantage.
Canisius forward Scott Hitchon hit two free throws to finish the first half with the Golden Griffins up, 34-31.
The scoring drought in the middle of the half made a dent to both teams’ stats, with both teams shooting a combined 4-of-28 from three.
Rider’s scoring was headed by Vaughn, who led all scorers in the first half with 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Jordan and Powell both finished the period with six points.
The second half was neck-and-neck until Canisius went on a 9-1 run with four minutes to go to clinch a seven-point lead.
Down 56-49, graduate guard Willy Nuñez, Jr. and Vaughn hit back-to-back 3-pointers to bring the score within one point. Malik Johnson answered with a jumper to re-extend the Golden Griffins’ lead to three with just under three minutes left in the game.
With 2:18 left on the clock, Jordan nailed a game-tying 3-pointer to knot the score at 58. A minute later, Canisius forward Corey Brown found himself in the paint and finished a layup to push the Golden Griffins ahead 60-58 with a minute to go in the contest.
The Broncs went back up the court and with 40 seconds left, Vaughn drove in for a potential game-tying layup. He missed. With 15 seconds left, Malik Johnson put up a 3-pointer that could have proved to be the dagger for Canisius. He missed.
With the clock winding down and no clear, open shots for Rider, Nuñez put up a prayer from three to try to give the Broncs a lead. He missed. A whistle blew. He was fouled.
Nuñez went to the free-throw line with a chance to win the game. He made the first two shots from the line to tie the game before Canisius made an attempt to ice the shooter by calling a timeout.
“I was waiting on the timeout, I just didn’t know when it was going to come,” said Nuñez.
After the timeout, Nuñez returned to the line, took a deep breath and shot the most important free throw of Rider’s season so far.
It went in.
Rider called a timeout following the go-ahead free throw to regroup the team for an important defensive possession with five seconds to go.
Out of the huddle, Malik Johnson looked to get the ball inbounds so it could be returned to him for a final shot. Marshall had other plans, stealing the ball and dribbling out the game clock to secure the improbable 61-60 win for Rider.
“We missed a ton of layups and free throws,” Baggett said. “But a win is a win is a win and I’m certainly not going to complain about that.”
Despite the chaos that seems to be with Rider basketball on many occasions, Vaughn reassured that his team is calm and collected.
Vaughn said, “You guys may be panicking, but we try to stay as calm as possible.”
Rider vs. Niagara, Feb. 9
The Broncs remained at home on Feb. 9 in hopes to sweep the weekend with a win over Niagara. Rider’s last meeting with the Purple Eagles ended with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Niagara guard Marcus Hammond for a 70-68 defeat for the Broncs.
The pace to start the game was a bit slow, only seeing three baskets in the first four and a half minutes, all by Rider to put it up 6-0 and keep Niagara scoreless headed to the first media timeout.
Out of the break, redshirt senior guard Kimar Williams hit a free throw and a layup to extend the Broncs’ lead to 9-0.
Five minutes into the game, forward Greg Kuakumensah scored Niagara’s first points of the game with a mid-range jump shot to beat the shot clock buzzer. Niagara guard Shandon Brown hit a tough shot over Scott to bring the score to 9-4, which Scott answered with a long ball to re-extend the Rider lead to eight.
Hammond came back and hit a deep 3-pointer of his own, though an Ings layup made sure that the Broncs kept their distance into the second media timeout.
After both teams traded points following the break, Nuñez hit a 3-pointer to give the Broncs a convincing 21-9 lead with seven and a half minutes left in the first half.
Both teams proceeded to trade points over the next three minutes, culminating in a Jordan shot from beyond the arc that put Rider up 30-14 with four minutes left in the half.
The Purple Eagles managed a quick five-point swing to lower the Niagara deficit to 11. Rider did not allow the quick run to last, however, as Jordan hit his second 3-pointer of the game and Scott found himself open in the post to continue the Broncs’ strong first half.
Niagara continued to try to keep itself within reach with another five-point run to get the margin to single digits, forcing Baggett to call a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Niagara guard Raheem Solomon hit a shot but was answered with a 3-point shot from Scott to end the half with the Broncs ahead, 40-29.
Rider dominated on all sides of the ball, holding significant advantages in assists, rebounding and points in the paint, highlighted by the 24-4 advantage they held in paint scoring.
Rider’s efficient scoring was thanks to a 6-of-6 first-half performance from the field for Scott and a 5-of-5 mark for Marshall. Scott was 2-of-2 from beyond the arc to account for six of his 14 first-half points.
Marshall matched Scott’s first-half shooting mark with his sixth-straight make to begin the second half, while Hammond hit a floater to begin the scoring for Niagara.
Marshall came right back to hit his seventh shot in as many tries, matching the Broncs’ largest lead of the game to that point at 13.
After multiple stops on defense, Williams faked out his defender at hit a layup and Vaughn bottomed a 3-pointer to put Rider up, 49-31, four minutes into the half.
A two-minute scoring drought after the under-16-minute timeout ended with a Vaughn three and Marshall layup to the Broncs up by 23 points.
The Broncs dominated for the rest of the game, leading by as many as 31 points. Niagara pushed in garbage time, bringing Rider’s lead down to 15 points, but the Broncs emerged victorious by a score of 73-58.
Rider achieved its highest lead of the game at the 8:47 mark of the second half when an inbound alley-oop from Jordan found itself in the hands of Ings, who elevated and finished the pass with an emphatic slam. The dunk landed in the fourth spot of ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 Plays on Feb. 10.
Jordan was asked whether or not he and Ings practiced the inbound play at all before Feb. 9’s game.
“I mean, sometimes we do it after practice,” Jordan said, “Until [Baggett] tells us to get off the court.”
Rider’s MAAC Standing
The Broncs’ win, compounded with Saint Peter’s win over Monmouth that same day, propelled them into first place in the MAAC, though the lead is far from comfortable. Rider is tied with Saint Peter’s with a 7-5 MAAC record while last-place Canisius is just three and a half games back from the top of the conference.
Rider’s next matchup will take place in Albany, New York, when it takes on Siena on Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. The Saints are undefeated at home this season, posting a 10-0 record in Albany, New York.
The Broncs will return home on Feb. 16 to play Quinnipiac at 2 p.m. The Bobcats handed Rider an 80-61 loss in Hamden, Connecticut, on Jan. 7. and currently sit one-and-a-half games behind the Broncs.