By Austin Ferguson
After defeating Long Island University Brooklyn (LIU), 89-74, the men’s basketball team is off to its best season start since the 2006-2007, when then-junior and now professional veteran forward Jason Thompson led Rider to a 6-2 start.
The Broncs hosted LIU on Dec. 14 in search of their fourth-straight win. Rider enjoyed an 89-69 victory over Bucknell in its home opener on Dec. 3. Prior to that, the Broncs had important non-conference wins against Columbia on Nov. 23 and Vermont on Nov. 24 to win the Springfield bracket of the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament.
Despite its 3-6 record, LIU had won its last two games en-route to its matchup against the Broncs. The Sharks had a pair of 13-point victories over Cal Poly and Army respectively.
Redshirt senior guard Kimar Williams was back in the rotation for the Broncs against LIU. Williams missed the prior five games with an injury to his foot.
LIU went with a noticeably small lineup against Rider. Three of the Sharks’ starters stood at 6-feet-2-inches or under.
LIU started things off early with a three from forward Raiquan Clark. Redshirt junior forward Frederick Scott answered back with three of his own: the hard way.
Scott was fouled on a layup that he made and sank the successive free throw to tie the game.
Both teams upped the tempo early, but neither team was able to take advantage of it. After five straight points from LIU, the Broncs pushed for two baskets of their own, ending with an and-one layup from senior center Tyere Marshall to bring the score to 8-7 in favor of LIU headed into the first media timeout.
After missing the following free throw, LIU guard Julian Batts made a three-point shot to give LIU a four point lead. Marshall made sure that lead did not last for long as he made another and-one layup and the following free throw to bring the game back within one.
Back-to-back turnovers for LIU and three-straight baskets for the Broncs, two from redshirt junior forward Dimencio Vaughn and a layup from freshman guard Christian Ings, swung the game into Rider’s favor, 16-11.
In the midst of the uptempo, back-and-forth play, senior guard Stevie Jordan was assessed a technical foul for arguing with an official.
As the first half passed the 10-minute mark, the tempo began to slow down and Rider was in control. Rider increased the pressure on the defensive end and forced LIU to try to fight from inside. Through that, the Broncs forced LIU to take bad shots and forced the Sharks to give up the ball on multiple occasions.
For Head Coach Kevin Baggett, the defense was the bread and butter of Rider’s gameplay.
“It’s where we need to hang our hats. We just need to keep our attention on [the defensive] end,” Baggett said.
Once the game was moving at Rider’s pace, the Broncs shot ahead. With five minutes left in the half, Rider pushed for nine-straight points, capped off by consecutive layups by Scott and a layup by Jordan to give the Broncs an 11 point lead, the largest lead by either team of the game to that point.
LIU attempted to shift the momentum late when they reduced the lead to seven points with just over a minute remaining. That was as much as LIU would reduce the lead as late free throws from Vaughn brought the lead back up to nine to close the first half.
On the surface, the first half was extremely competitive. LIU’s field goal percentage edged out Rider’s as the Sharks shot 35.7% from the field over the Broncs’ 30%. Rider was also severely outperformed from beyond the arc, shooting 10% from three-point range compared to LIU’s 30.8% from deep in the first half.
The Broncs were able to eke out their nine-point advantage in the first half with volume shooting. Despite the deficit in field goal percentage to LIU, Rider attempted 12 more shots from the field over the Sharks.
The biggest first-half advantage for Rider came from the free-throw line. The Broncs more than doubled LIU’s attempts and makes from the free-throw line. Rider made 15-of-19 free throws in the first period, compared to LIU’s 7-of-9 first-half performance from the stripe.
Dimencio Vaughn agreed that free throws were paramount to Rider’s lead in the first half. Vaughn said, “[Free throws] are crucial, it gets us going. We just tore all half on defense, and we just took it from there on offense.”
As far as individual performances went, Vaughn led the way for the Broncs, completing a double-double in the first half. Vaughn scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes of play.
It was Ings, however, who led Rider out of the locker room for the second half, scoring the first five points of the period in consecutive possessions to give the Broncs a 12 point lead.
LIU brought the intensity right back to Rider, though the Broncs kept the momentum that Ings established at the start of the half. After a series of traded points, Scott nailed a three-pointer and brought the Broncs into the first media break of the half ahead 52-40.
Rider stormed out of the media timeout and got back to work quickly. The Broncs scored off of a Marshall layup and almost immediately got the ball back. Jordan threw an alley-oop pass that Scott finished with a layup to extend Rider’s lead to 16 and force LIU to call a timeout.
The timeout was of no help to LIU, as the Broncs forced a stop and, thanks to a Marshall layup, brought the lead to 18.
After Rider again took care of business on the defensive side of the ball, Scott finished an and-one layup and the free throw after to put the Broncs up 61-40 with 12 minutes to go in the game.
With eight minutes remaining in the second half, LIU’s Clark was assessed a technical foul for arguing calls with an official, evening the technical foul count for both sides.
With five minutes to go, Clark, LIU’s leading scorer with 23 points, committed his fifth foul and had to sit out for the remainder of the contest.
Despite that, LIU began to pull back in quickly. Over four minutes, the Sharks nearly cut the lead in half, scoring nine-straight points and bringing the game to a 73-61 score with four minutes to go.
Baggett swiftly brought in Rider’s starters. Jordan, Ings, Vaughn, Scott and Marshall only needed 30 seconds to push back with an 8-2 run of their own and re-extended the Broncs’ lead to 16 points.
Rider spent the rest of the contest chewing out the clock as the Broncs coasted to victory, 89-74.
“A good win by our guys,” Baggett said. “Defensively, we did exactly what we needed to do… I think we did a good job rebounding and dominating the glass, just a good team win overall.”
Four Rider players scored in double-figures against LIU. Scott, Marshall, Vaughn and Ings scored 21, 20, 18 and 10 points respectively.
Scott, Vaughn and Marshall all finished the game with double-doubles. On top of their scoring performances, Vaughn, Marshall and Scott grabbed 13, 12 and 10 boards respectively.
Jordan led distribution for Rider, dishing out five assists in the contest.
Rider remains at home on Dec. 16 when it takes on Marist in the first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference matchup of the season at 7 p.m. The Broncs have not lost against the Red Foxes since 2016, having won their last six matchups against Marist.
For the Broncs, Marshall is ready to defend home court.
“We always try to take care of home court. Everybody’s coming out to support us and we want to make sure they come and see us win. We don’t want to lose at home,” Marshall said.
Vaughn didn’t mince words when it came to playing at Alumni Gymnasium.
“We always have that mindset to protect home base,” Vaughn said. “So it’s going to be hard to run against all of us. We run as a stampede. We’re the Broncs. Welcome to the zoo.”