By Carolo Pascale
Something was just different about the matchup between Rider and Monmouth on Nov. 30. Maybe it was the jam packed Broncs Zoo, the fact that this was a non-conference matchup, or maybe it was the fact the Broncs played arguably their best game of the season so far. Regardless of what it was, the Broncs finally got back in the win column, beating the Hawks 88-62.
“We needed a win. We were more desperate,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “I thought we did a decent job. We could do a lot better. But I’m never going to complain about a win, especially when they’ve come few and far between of late.”
This was a revenge game for the Broncs, as Monmouth were the ones that knocked them out of last season’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament in the semifinals. But with Monmouth having left the conference after last year, this was the best opportunity that the Broncs were going to get.
That opportunity didn’t start great for Rider as it looked half asleep through the first few minutes of play. Finally, the Broncs seemed to wake up after senior forward Mervin James scored the team’s first points of the night.
Once James had woken the slumbering Broncs, they proceeded to go on an energizing 14-point run to take a lead they wouldn’t lose for the rest of the night.
After the big point swing, Rider locked down defensively and were playing some of the toughest defense they have all season. After the embarrassing 30-point loss against Rutgers in their last game, the Broncs looked like a completely different team on defense against the Hawks.
A lot of that seemed to stem from what James called an “effort practice” that the Broncs had leading up to the Monmouth matchup.
“It’s a lot of box out drills, lane slides, one-on-ones, just the little things that you can bring by yourself without the coaches asking you to,” said James about the practice.
It certainly looked like it helped, as the Broncs played with a lot of defensive intensity and limited a lot of prime chances for the Hawks, forcing them into double coverage and tough shooting situations.
The rest of the first half saw some back and forth play but Rider led 37-27 at the end of it. James and senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. both led the team with eight points while the Broncs shot nearly 54% from the field.
As teams were going back to their locker rooms, the Broncs faithful were chirping at the Monmouth players and Hawks Head Coach King Rice. According to multiple reports, Rice, who’s a long time friend of Baggett, said that something was being said about his family, which led to a fan being kicked out.
“I think it’s a little bit of emotion,” said Baggett. “I’m gonna talk to him after the game. He’s had some issues with some of our fans in the past.”
In the second half, the Broncs had a lot of big moments as they continued to push their lead further.
James had a high-flying, chase-down block that cemented the night he was having, as well as a nice up-and-under try to get the ball set up for a monster dunk by graduate student Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson. Senior guard Allen Betrand, who only played three minutes against Rutgers due to being sick, also had a great block in the half.
Rider went up by 20 points with 11:14 left to go and didn’t let Monmouth get within 15 points the rest of the game, ending it with a 26-point victory.
The Broncs shot absurdly good in the second half, going 16-for-26 from the field and 5-for-7 from the three. James and Murray both finished with 17 points while senior guard Allen Powell had 11.
The Broncs will now enter conference play with a big win behind them as they take on Mount St. Mary’s on Dec. 3 for the Mountaineers’ first MAAC play home game since joining the conference.