By Carolo Pascale
A 20 day break for any team is a long one, but throw COVID-19 into the mix, and those 20 days could feel even longer. That’s exactly what Rider men’s basketball had to deal with, as it finally got back on the court on Jan. 9 in a rematch of its last Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) opponent, the Marist Red Foxes. The Broncs secured their first conference win of the season 79-75 in their return to the court.
“We just want to play and want to win,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett, “First of all the guys are healthy, which is the most important thing. We can now move forward and I thought the guys did a great job of coming out of it and I was proud of that today.”
For its first game against a Division I opponent in 35 days, the Broncs started out incredibly fast and hungry, quickly taking a 22-8 lead in just seven minutes of action. The Broncs continued to pile it on, at one point going up by 16, with some fantastic three point shooting from junior guard Allen Powell, who went 3-for-4 in the first half.
“Confidence and getting in the gym. Those are the two biggest things that have helped me,” Powell said.
But Marist pushed back hard, shrinking the Rider lead all the way down to one by the end of the first half. At the end of the first half, the score stood at 40-39.
Powell led the Broncs with nine points and graduate student Dimencio Vaughn had eight rebounds in just that half. As a team, the Broncs shot 6-for-9 (66.7%) from three and 15-for-28 (53.6%) overall during the half. Just for some perspective, the Broncs came into the game dead last in the MAAC in both shooting percentage from the field at 37.8% and from three at 28.8%.
“We know we have talent on this team. We’ve underachieved up until this point but some of it was a product of our schedule. They’re listening to us and we’re listening to them to try and put them in a spot to be successful,” said Baggett.
The second half stayed close, with Marist tying the game at 51 at one point, but the Broncs once again took over and went on an 18-4 run that spanned over five minutes.
But just like the end of the first half, Marist would slowly but surely claw its way back into the game, cutting the lead down to five several times during the closing minutes. The Broncs got into foul trouble at the end as well with senior forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson and Vaughn both having four.
Marist shrunk the Broncs lead down to two with six seconds left, but senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. knocked down two free throws to hold on and end the game 79-75.
“Everybody was moving this time. We were taking quick shots and moving. I feel like this is the best game we have played as a team today,” said Murray.
As for what the final stats looked like for the Broncs, it was clear it was a true team effort. All five starters hit double digit points. Powell led the team with 15, Vaughn had a double-double with 10 assists and 14 points, Ogemuno-Johnson had a career high 13 points, Murray had 11 assists and 14 points, and junior guard Mervin James had 10 points.
“We need to understand that we are a good team. We got guys making shots and we are defending better,” said Baggett.
After starting off 2022 with a win, the Broncs will look to make it two when they return home and take on the Quinnipiac Bobcats on Jan. 14. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.