By Jacob Tiger and Carolo Pascale
Rider men’s basketball was back at home for a chilly, winter-weather-filled weekend that saw them go 1-1, falling to Fairfield 76-65 on Jan. 28, and defeating Canisius 70-62 on Jan. 30. The Broncs now stand at 7-13 overall and 3-7 in conference play.
Lack of consistency
The Fairfield Stags arrived in Lawrenceville escorted by a scourge of ice and snow that froze the ill-prepared Broncs, leading to cold shooting, glacial defense and a 76-65 loss.
The defeat marked Rider’s fifth loss in an undoubtedly frustrating six-game stretch.
“From game to game, I’m not really sure what we’re going to get, to be honest with you. I mean, it’s been very inconsistent all year long,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett.
Collectively, the Broncs shot an unacceptable 38.5% (25-65) from the field, often desperately chucking the ball up as the shot clock expired.
“We gotta pick it up. That’s really it,” said junior guard Allen Powell. “We gotta do better.”
Powell played well against Fairfield, though, finishing with 21 points and three assists, both of which were team-highs. He also impressed from 3-point range, shooting 42.8% (3-7).
Unfortunately, the Broncs as a team were frigid, only converting on 26.7% (4-15) of their 3-point attempts.
“I’ve not seen us put it together where we have four or five guys playing and doing the things we need ‘em to do,” said Baggett.
The Broncs’ futile efforts on offense led to messy, uninspired defensive possessions, giving up several easy baskets.
“[I’ve] never seen a team leave guys open more than this team does, and it’s all about a lack of communication,” said an blunt Baggett. “If you don’t open your mouth and talk, guys are running free.”
While the Broncs were floundering about, the Stags and their deadly backcourt continued to distance themselves from the Broncs, both on the scoreboard and the court.
“We said for us to win this game, we had to stop [Taj] Benning and [Jake] Wojcik and they both went off, so we didn’t execute the scouting report,” said Powell.
Fairfield’s backcourt duo torched the Broncs with ease, accounting for 44 of the team’s 76 points.
“We left guys open. Wide-open,” said Baggett. “You allow guys to get in a rhythm [and] that’s what’s gonna happen.”
‘This team’s not far off’
As for the second game of the wintry weekend, the Broncs faced off against the Canisius Golden Griffins on Jan. 30 and were finally able to put together a complete effort on both sides of the ball, earning their third Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) win of the season, beating Canisius 70-62.
“It’s good to be on the winning side today,” said Baggett. “We can smile for 24 hours and enjoy it.”
This was the second time that Rider and Canisius had faced off in just nine days, with the Golden Griffins taking the first game on Jan. 21 by just a single point. However, this game was much different for the Broncs, who played strong on both sides of the ball.
The first 10 minutes of the first half was very back and forth with both teams taking blows at each other, but a big 3-point shot from sophomore forward Nehemiah Benson spurred the Broncs to a 17-3 run to get the Broncs to a 36-27 point lead with just under two and a half minutes left in the half.
Canisius pushed back, but senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. would beat the halftime buzzer with a midrange, pull-up jumper to give the Broncs a 39-32 lead at the end of the first half.
“I can do this every game,” said Murray. “It’s just some games you have slumps, and I’ve had a couple slumps this year. But I never stopped shooting.”
At the end of the first half, the Broncs had shot 50% from the field, going 15-for-30 while doing an excellent job on the defensive side, holding the Golden Griffins to 32% from the field (8-for-25). One of the standout players on defense for the Broncs was junior guard Sedrick Altman, who made several crucial stops to keep the Broncs ahead.
“It was just getting back to the simple things really,” said Altman. “It’s all just buying into what my coaches are telling me and staying with it. I’m buying into that role defensively.”
The second half saw Canisius go on an early 9-0 run which whittled Rider’s lead all the way down to two points, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Murray and Powell pushed the lead forward. The Broncs lead grew to as much as 14 at one point, with Powell being the driving force on offense in the second half.
As time continued to wane off the clock, Canisius tried to claw back with the final six points of the game, but the lead was too much, and the Broncs earned their third conference win of the season.
“We learned from the other night,” said Baggett. “We talk about details, things that matter. This team’s not far off.”
By the end of the game, Murray had nearly posted a triple-double with 16 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Powell also had 16 points for the Broncs.
“At the end of the day, the energy has to be the same. The way we execute at the end has to be the same. But it’s still gotta be better though,” said Murray.
The Broncs will be taking a trip up to Albany to face off against the Siena Saints on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.