Broncs sent home early yet again

Sophomore guard Stevie Jordan led Rider in scoring with 13 points in the 66-55 loss to St. Peter’s on March 2. Jordan led the MAAC in assists per game with six, and he received All-MAAC Second Team honors.

By Rob Rose

The top-seeded men’s basketball team was upset in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament, losing to St. Peter’s, 66-55. The Peacocks were the first No. 9 seed to advance to the semifinals in conference history.

In the first two meetings between the teams, Rider won both, but by a slim total of seven points. There is a cliché in sports that says it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season, and that proved to be the case in this battle.

St. Peter’s, which defeated eighth-seeded Monmouth in the first round, opened the game strong, scoring seven of the first eight points as the Broncs tried to shake the rust off after five days of rest.

Sophomore guard Stevie Jordan jump-started the Rider offense with a contested three-pointer and layup in traffic. A 7-0 run by the Broncs forced a timeout from the Peacocks with 4:59 left in the first half and with Rider leading, 23-16.

Moments later, Jordan picked up his second foul and was forced to sit the remainder of the half. St. Peter’s responded after a Rider layup with a 10-0 spurt to take a 27-25 lead into the locker room, for halftime.

“When Stevie picked up that second foul, it changed the complexion of the game,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “We had an eight-point lead. I never felt like we played well together as a team today. Give them credit, because no one was trying to do it selfishly, but we just had too many guys trying to win the game for us instead of playing as a team like we normally do.”

The Peacocks continued their hot shooting immediately in the second, increasing their lead to 33-26.

The Broncs struggled to connect from the field from the final five minutes of the first through the early minutes of the second half. Following Rider’s 25-17 lead with 3:42 left in the first half, St. Peter’s went on a 21-3 run during the next 7:53 of the game, giving them a 38-28 advantage.

Rider continually turned the ball over throughout the game and was unable to connect from the free-throw line. The Broncs had 15 turnovers, shot 63 percent (22-for-35) from the foul line and 31 percent from the field.

“We got out of character and everybody was going one-on-one, I couldn’t get these guys to buy into that part of it,” said Baggett. “We just didn’t play well.”

The Broncs fought to the end, trimming the Peacocks’ lead to nine twice in the second half, but they never really threatened to tie or regain the lead after halftime. St. Peter’s held on and secured the 66-55 victory and a trip to the conference semifinals.

The Peacocks were the first No. 9 seed to beat the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The team was ultimately eliminated by Iona.

Iona won the MAAC Tournament for the third consecutive season, defeating sixth-seeded Fairfield. The Gaels have appeared in the last six championships in a row, winning four.

“We knew exactly what we had to do to win this game,” said Jordan. “We just didn’t execute and play the way we usually do.”

The loss crushed the Broncs’ hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament, something the team hasn’t done since 1994.

The morning of the game, the MAAC annual awards show was held, and two Broncs received postseason awards.

Baggett earned his second MAAC Coach of the Year award after leading the young team to a 22-8 record and a share of the regular-season title.

However, in his six seasons as head coach, Baggett has failed to lead Rider past the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament, with an 0-6 record. Twice, his teams entered as the No. 2 seed and once, this season, as the top seed.

Freshman forward Frederick Scott received the MAAC Sixth Player of the Year award for the premier player off the bench. Scott averaged 13 ppg and tied for the team lead in rebounds per game with 6.6.

After finishing as the conference’s regular-season champions, Rider earned an automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). The Broncs have only played in the NIT once before, in 1998.

“As much as we’re disappointed, its still an opportunity for us to prolong the season and get the bad taste out of our mouth after losing in the quarterfinals,” said Baggett. “Our guys are excited. We’re in a good place.”

The first round of the NIT is scheduled to begin on March 13. The first, second and quarterfinal rounds of the tournament are hosted by one of the participating teams, with the higher seed receiving the decision where to play.

The semifinals and finals of the NIT are played at Madison Square Garden from March 27 to 29.

Additionally, this year’s NIT will feature four experimental rule changes.

Instead of the two 20-minute halves, the teams will play four 10-minute quarters, like NCAA women’s basketball.

Also, the three-point line will extend one foot and eight inches, the same as international basketball leagues and the free-throw lane will widen from 12 feet to 16 feet, consistent with the NBA.

Baggett expressed displeasure with the pro-stlye rules.

“We’re not the NBA. We don’t have NBA players more often than not,” said Baggett. “I wish they would stop trying to make it to where we’re trying to be like the NBA and allow college basketball to be pure.Let the NBA players adjust when they get to the next level.”

The Broncs will learn their opponent for the first round of the NIT on March 11, commonly known as Selection Sunday.

Follow Rob Rose on Twitter for the latest news on Rider Basketball.

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