Broncs snag No. 2; battle Iona on Senior Day
By Carolo Pascale
The echoes of last year’s March Madness whispered through the wind as Rider men’s basketball closed out its regular season on March 2 and March 4. The Broncs first locked up the No. 2 seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament with a 73-60 win against last year’s springtime surprise in Saint Peter’s, and then played what felt like a MAAC Championship appetizer against Iona, but fell 80-78.
Locking up No. 2
The Broncs opened their final weekend of the regular season with a critical trip to North Jersey, to take on the Saint Peter’s Peacocks. While the Peacocks flashed some of their brilliant colors early on, Rider junior forward Tariq Ingraham stole the show with 20 points worth of dazzling post-moves and pure muscle that powered the Broncs to a 73-60 win.
The win, alongside a Siena loss to Manhattan, guaranteed the Broncs the No. 2 seed in the 2023 MAAC Tournament. This is the highest the Broncs have finished since the 2017-18 season where they were the regular season champions and the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
“I knew we were going to have to lean on [Ingraham] a little bit more,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett.
Saint Peter’s got out to a quick start through the first four minutes and took a 13-6 lead. Nine of the 13 points came from the 3-point line, which the Broncs struggled to defend all night.
Both the offense and defense for Rider looked out of sorts, but it clawed way back with some better play on the posts, especially from Ingraham, and tied the game at 20. From there, the Broncs gained a 33-30 advantage off a 3-pointer from senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. and wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.
The Peacocks were able to cut the lead down to two with 8:28 left to go in the second half, but Rider held on thanks to Ingraham, Murray and senior guard Allen Powell.
Ingraham just missed out on a double-double, knocking down a career-high 20 points with eight rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes. Powell finished with 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting from three, and Murray nearly had a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.
“Coach told me before they’re going to try to get the ball to the paint, so I just tried to do what I usually do and get to the basket,” said Ingraham.
A championship appetizer
After locking up the No. 2 seed, Rider’s regular season finale against the Gaels, which many thought would decide the regular season championship a few weeks ago, instead turned into a potential preview of the upcoming tournament final.
Just like the last time against Iona Head Coach Rick Pitino, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, the Broncs put forth an incredible effort with intensity and physicality, but fell just short as they lost 80-78 to close out the regular season.
“Good game. A MAAC game. I think I might’ve mismanaged the end of the game, because we didn’t foul. That’s on me,” said Baggett.
Before the game, six Broncs were honored for their time at Rider. Graduate student guard Zahrion Blue, graduate student forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson, redshirt senior forward Tyrel Bladen, senior guard Allen Betrand, senior forward Mervin James and Murray were all given framed jerseys to commemorate their accomplishments as Broncs.
Once the game started, it felt just like last season’s MAAC Tournament Quarterfinal matchup. Both teams were playing physical, grind it out basketball, with Rider dominating in the paint.
The key components for the Broncs were a trio of their graduating players, those being Blue, Betrand and James. All three finished with 15 points.
Blue, the local Princeton, New Jersey, product had a number of friends and family at the game and had his best game of the season at a perfect time. He knocked down 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and was able to drive to the basket very efficiently.
“It gave me a big boost, a lot of energy,” said Blue. “I just wanted to come out there and try to help my team get the win.”
It was just a two-point game at the end of the first half with Iona leading 34-32, but after some lead changes to start the second, Iona took the lead with 15:27 left and never let it up. The Broncs made it close several times and got the lead down to one, three separate times, but a poorly executed last 20 seconds sank Rider’s chances as a heave by Murray wouldn’t fall.
The Broncs shot an otherworldly 74.1% from the field in the second half and 54.1% overall with 44 of their 78 points coming from inside the paint.
Rider finished their regular season with an overall record of 16-13 and 13-7 in conference play, but most importantly with the No. 2 seed in the MAAC Tournament. The Broncs will take the court in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on March 8 at 9:30 p.m, but will have to wait to see who their opponent is as they will play the winner of Fairfield and Saint Peter’s.