By Carolo Pascale
A loss always hurts especially when a team plays well. But that loss hurts even more when it was in overtime and the team had the lead for nearly 35 minutes of play. That’s exactly what happened to the Rider men’s basketball team when they faced Quinnipiac on Jan. 14.
“We need execution down the stretch. We gotta defend better down the stretch,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “It’s been our achilles heel closing games out.”
The Broncs led and executed for 35 minutes of play but couldn’t put the game away, losing 77-70 in overtime. This was Quinnipiac’s first-ever win at Alumni Gym and it came with Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Commissioner (MAAC) Rich Ensor sitting in press row.
Things looked like they were going to go great for the Broncs, with junior guard Allen Powell picking up right where he left off against Marist, drilling a mid-range jumper to open the scoring. That shot spurred the Broncs onto a quick 12-0 lead inside the opening three minutes.
Paired with a quick offense, the Broncs were playing solid defense as well, as senior forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson was locking down everything at the rim. Once Quinnipiac finally started to gain some ground back, Powell had already amassed nine of Rider’s points, going 4-for-4 including one 3-pointer.
But as the first half continued, Quinnipiac started to surge back. The Bobcats tied the game at 24 points apiece, but the Broncs were able to regain their lead and take a six point lead into the end of the half. Powell led the Broncs with 12 points at the end of the half and graduate student Dimencio Vaughn had seven rebounds in almost 19 minutes of play.
“I just kept shooting,” said Powell on his strong play. “We just all gotta take our shots and take our time.”
The second half started much differently than the first did, as it was the Bobcats that came out fast, tying the game, and taking their first lead of the game. Rider tried to pull away a few times but Quinnipiac kept up and continuously tied the game several times.
As the game stayed close with neither team able to break the game open, Baggett was very animated on the sidelines with the Broncs getting bested both offensively and defensively.
With time ticking off the clock in the final minute of regulation, junior forward Mervin James, the Broncs’s and games leading scorer to that point, fouled out as the Bobcats were able to take a two point lead.
But only a few moments after that, Ogemuno-Johnson hit two free throws tying the game back up. Ogemuno-Johnson came up big again for the Broncs just seconds later when he and Vaughn made a huge block on a Bobcats layup attempt with just 12.7 seconds left to go in regulation.
“After the block, with the time on the clock, I felt like we had a chance to win the game,” said Ogemuno-Johnson.
The Broncs got the ball back with the final shot but couldn’t bury it, which meant overtime for the first time this season.
“We did enough to win in regulation. We should have taken care of business down the stretch,” said Baggett.
Overtime went back and forth, with both teams making baskets. Vaughn had one incredible play in the overtime, losing the ball and falling, picking it back up from his back, and was somehow able to dish it over to Powell who nailed the shot to tie the game at 68.
But despite those efforts, the Broncs defense bent and broke as the Bobcats walked off the court with a seven point victory. Powell and James finished with 17 points each while Vaughn and senior guard Jeremiah Pope each finished with 13 points.
“We have to execute better,” said Baggett. “We have to know our personnel. We have to know who we’re getting the ball to. We gotta talk and we have to communicate down the stretch.”
With the loss, it puts the Broncs at 1-3 in conference play and 10th in the conference standings. The Broncs will have to bounce back quickly, as they face a strong Saint Peter’s team on Jan. 16 at 2 p.m. at Alumni Gym. The game will be streamed on ESPN 3.