By Carolo Pascale
After ending 2022 on a high note against Canisius, the Broncs didn’t start 2023 off the way they had hoped, falling to Niagara 61-59 in a contested, back-and-forth battle on Jan. 2.
The Broncs weren’t able to maintain their perfect record in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play, and now sit at 3-1 while going 1-2 overall over the end-of-year road trip.
“It was a missed opportunity but we battled. We didn’t always do the right things in order to win the game, but we battled,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett.
The opening stages of the game set the tone for how the rest of the matchup would go, with both teams trading blows quickly.
Rider jumped out to an early 10-8 with 14 minutes left in the first half off the back of four points from senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. Muray, still chasing his 1000 career point mark with Rider, needed 13 points to break it.
As the half continued, Niagara started to pull ahead after a long stretch where neither team could get a basket to fall. The Purple Eagles got their lead as high as 11 points in the half, but the Broncs were able to make up some ground, leaving Niagara with an eight point, 33-25 lead at the end of the half.
Senior guard Allen Betrand, who injured his ankle in the Broncs’ previous game against Canisius, returned in this one and led the team with seven points at the end of the 1st half. Betrand also came up limping again and went off in this one, but came back in just a few sequences later.
“Yesterday I was rehabbing it. And today, coming into the game I felt better,” said Betrand. “On a play I reinjured it, so I taped it up and I was back out there.”
Rider as a whole shot well from the field, going 11-for-24 (45.8%), and made just one of it’s four three point attempts. Niagara didn’t shoot as well from the field as the Broncs, going 10-for-26 (38.5%) from the floor, but shot impressively from behind the arc at 6-for-15 (40%).
The 3-ball proved to be a difference maker as Niagara added another three of them to it’s total in the second half. Guarding the three has been very difficult with the Broncs this year with Baggett saying the team’s been working on it all year.
“It’s been our Achilles heel. It was our Achilles heel again today,” said Baggett. “We gotta understand basketball wise what the guy is trying to get done. We got to make him put on the floor and force twos over threes.”
Rider came out with a refreshed and renewed energy in the second half despite that, and were able to tie the game at 37. From there, it was essentially a one basket game as both teams tried to break the game open.
The game went down to the wire as Rider was down by a single point with 1:35 left to go in the game. The Purple Eagles drained a three on the next possession, but the Broncs would make it a two point game two more times off free throws to give themselves a shot to tie or win at the buzzer.
Unfortunately, Murray’s last chance effort at the end wouldn’t fall as the clock ran out, sending the Broncs home with a tough loss to start the new year.
Betrand finished with a team-leading 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting, while senior forward Mervin James chipped in 15 and graduate student forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson scored 12. Murray finished with 8, putting him just five points away from breaking 1000 points with the Broncs.
Rider will finally return home after being away since Christmas to take on Quinnipiac on Jan. 6 in Alumni Gym at 7 p.m.