By Shaun Chornobroff
Before it took the floor against Quinnipiac on the road on Feb. 20 and 21, it had been nearly a month since the Rider men’s basketball had played a game of basketball.
Like a classic box-office flop, the anticipation did not meet expectations for fans, coaches or players alike, with the Broncs dropping both games against the tenth-placed Bobcats.
The losses put Rider at the bottom of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), somewhere Head Coach Kevin Baggett isn’t happy to be.
“I’ve never been in last place in anything I’ve ever done,” Baggett said strongly. “Whether I played, coaching, I’ve never been in last, so it certainly doesn’t feel good and I’m certainly not planning on being here very long… I can assure everyone that I might get my a** handed to me now, but I can assure you next year this will not happen. I promise people that, you have my word on that.”
Through 30 minutes of basketball, there seemed to be a good chance that Rider could walk away from its first game since Jan. 23 with a victory. But the team faltered down the stretch and ultimately lost 80-64.
“All I know is that you have to compete,” Baggett said bluntly. “That’s what basketball is about, we don’t make excuses, we didn’t finish the game the right way.”
The two teams were tied at 53 at the 9:30 mark and seemed to be heading toward a competitive finish, but Rider’s offense went stagnant at the wrong time. Over the ensuing 6:05 of play, the Bobcats went on a 21-4 run that took the game out of Rider’s hands.
As it fell behind on the scoreboard, Rider not only lost a much-needed victory but also its coach.
Baggett’s words were not able to be caught on ESPN+, but even with a mask, the fiery head coach’s facial expression properly displayed his emotion. Baggett laid into the referees for not calling a foul on a turnover from sophomore guard Allen Powell, subsequently getting assessed with two technical fouls and an ejection from the game.
The technical fouls resulted in four points off of free throws for Quinnipiac and the Rider deficit went from 11 points to 15 in the blink of an eye.
In classic Baggett fashion, when asked about the ejection postgame, the veteran head coach initially didn’t seem to be willing to comment before being brutally honest.
“I don’t need to comment on that, it’s a blatant foul,” Baggett said sternly. “You saw it, just as every viewer who watched it saw it, it’s one of those where all three refs should come together, say something and overrule it.”
Rider’s offense seemed to flow nicely and the team had four players reach double-figures, including junior center Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson, who was one rebound away from a double-double.
The other three members of the team who reached double-figures were the trio of guards Rider relies on heavily every game. Junior Dwight Murray Jr. led the way with 16 points, five rebounds and three steals, Powell had 10 points and recorded five rebounds, four assists and two steals, to go along with four assists.
And for the first time since Jan. 8, sophomore Christian Ings got into double-figures. The explosive guard scored 12 points, but stuffed the stat sheet, contributing seven rebounds and four assists.
Unfortunately, the exploits of the quartet were not enough to get Rider into the win column.
The men’s basketball team embarrassingly dropped its second-consecutive game. From the outset, Rider looked uninterested in a must-win game and the final score reflected that with the, now eighth-placed, Bobcats destroying the Broncs by a score of 93-68.
“I just think that everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” a disgruntled Baggett said after the loss. “I don’t know, lack of experience, lack of being in this position, we certainly didn’t respond the way I hoped today coming off of yesterday’s loss.”
The gloomy end to the previous game seemed to affect the latter game of the double-header for Rider.
“At about the seven-minute mark of the second half, I thought we had kinda fallen apart, we didn’t compete nearly as much today, so it could have been a combination of both.”
Much like the previous game, Quinnipiac started with a 9-2 lead and Rider immediately fought back to make the score 9-8 in the early stretch. But that was about it for Rider — the team fell apart and went into the half trailing 55-30.
Quinnipiac came out strong in the second half and saw its lead grow to as many as 38 points before Rider sliced it back down to the final deficit of 25 in garbage time.
Rider’s defense was unable to stop Quinnipiac’s offense. The Bobcats set season-highs in points, assists and three-pointers made.
“We certainly were very, very poor defensively… We certainly need to go back and address that in practice,” Baggett said. “That is something that we spend day-in and day-out with.”
The last-place Broncs will look to revive their season on Feb. 26 and 27 when they go on the road to face Saint Peter’s.