By Jake Tiger and Carolo Pascale
Rider men’s basketball split its weekend games against Saint Peter’s and Siena. The Broncs were able to stave off attacks from the Peacocks on Feb. 11, extending their win streak to four, but fell to the Saints on Feb. 13.
Finding ways to win
In a gritty, defensive slugfest, the visiting Rider Broncs toppled the St. Peter’s Peacocks 58-49 on Feb. 11, etching yet another tick in the win column.
“You can tell that this team is playing with a ton of confidence right now. The right guys are doing the right things … and that’s why we’re winning,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett.
Each team held the other to astonishingly low shooting efficiency, with the Peacocks shooting just 32.7% (17-52) from the field and the Broncs just barely edging them out with 35% (21-60).
The first half was airtight with St. Peter’s having a 28-26 advantage at the break, but the Broncs countered in the second half and were able to slowly pull away.
“I thought our guys did a great job, especially in the second half. We stopped over helping, giving up open looks … That was the key to the second half,” said Baggett.
The Broncs smart, unselfish brand of basketball led to a well-balanced offensive attack. In the end, each starter was able to just barely break double-digit scoring, outside of senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. who was just shy of nine points.
“First half, I thought we took a bunch of quick shots. Second half, we moved the ball a little better. Still not good enough, but I’m not gonna complain because I’m happy that we won,” said Baggett.
On the opposite end, Rider flooded the box score, finishing with six blocks and 11 steals as a team.
Senior forward Dimencio Vaughn in particular was absolutely fantastic, contributing five steals and bolstering his case for Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Defensive Player of the Year.
“We ask [Vaughn] to do a lot: rebound, score, play defense, guard the other team’s best guy,” said Baggett. “His steals aren’t because he’s gambling, he’s just doing the right things.”
By grinding out another win against one of the MAAC’s top teams, the red-hot Broncs extended their win streak to four games and proved that they can win in multiple ways.
“One game at a time. That’s all we talk about,” said Baggett. “We don’t get ahead [of ourselves]. We know that we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
‘We can’t keep making the same mistakes’
After extending the winning streak to four games, the Broncs returned home on Feb. 13 looking to push it to five. This was something the Broncs haven’t done since the 2018-2019 season. But walking through the cold, snow-covered doors of Alumni Gym was a team just as red hot as the Broncs; the Siena Saints.
Coming into the matchup, the Saints won five of their last six games, the last one being an upset over the reigning MAAC Champion Iona Gaels just two days before facing off against Rider.
With both teams playing their best basketball of the year, the game was a battle that went into overtime. Heartbreakingly, the Broncs fell to the Saints 76-75, stomping out Rider’s winning streak at four games.
“We didn’t have to be in that position,” said Baggett. “We’ve been in this position over and over again and we’ve got to grow up from it. We can’t keep making the same mistakes.”
As soon as the game started, it was easy to see that it was going to be a close one. Neither team was able to break open the game in terms of scoring until about seven minutes in when Siena jumped out to a 10 point lead.
Just like many previous games, the Broncs clawed their way back into the game, not letting Siena grow its lead any higher than four for the rest of the first half.
The end of the first half was capped off by a buzzer-beater 3-pointer by Murray, who dropped eight points in that half. Junior forward Mervin James led the Broncs at the end of the half with nine points, and as a team, the Broncs shot well from the field and the three, shooting an even 50% in both categories.
“We gotta execute and pay attention in the huddle,” said Murray. “We gotta do better with paying attention and locking in.”
The second half saw the Broncs get out to a quick five-point lead off the backs of James and senior forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson, but Siena kept it close and eventually tied the game several times.
Rider got the lead back late off a floater from Murray with 1:39 remaining in the half, and Rider extended the lead to four from a jumper off the glass from junior guard Allen Powell.
However, miscommunication and lack of execution was the Broncs downfall as Siena was able to tie the game on a pair of free throws, forcing overtime.
Sophomore forward Nehemiah Benson hit a 3-pointer in overtime that gave the Broncs the lead with 3:10 left on the clock, but committed a foul with six seconds left on the clock which sent Siena to the free throw line. The call drew the ire of the Broncs bench and the fans, and when asked about the play, Baggett said, “I am headed to my office to call a league assigner.”
The Saints made both free throws, taking the lead, beating the Broncs by just one point.
“Poor execution down the stretch,” said Baggett of the loss. “That’s it in a nutshell. Offensively and defensively.”
Five Broncs hit double digit points, with James at the top with 15. Powell had 14 points and three steals.
The Broncs will look to regroup on Feb. 18 when they take on Monmouth at 7 pm. The game will be streamed on ESPN 3.