By Shaun Chornobroff
The Rider men’s basketball team looked outmatched and was outclassed in their season opener against Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) powerhouse Syracuse, dropping the road tilt 82-57.
It was the first time Rider played Syracuse in exactly 70 years, with the teams last facing each other on Dec. 5, 1950 and Head Coach Kevin Baggett’s first look at a remodeled roster that lost 87.5% of its scoring from last season.
Six of the 10 players that saw minutes for the Broncs were not a member of last year’s team, including two of their starters.
In the opening minutes of the game Rider desperately looked to find its footing as the Orange jumped out to an early lead, overpowering them with their three-point shooting, setting a tone that continued throughout the game, as Syracuse set a Carrier Dome record for three pointers made in a single game.
“I was concerned with everything,” Baggett said of his team’s performance. “For them to go 50% from the three point line, that’s disappointing, we’ve got to do a better job of guarding the three point line. And we’ve just got to do a better job defending.
Syracuse opened the game on an 18-6 run as the Broncs had no answer for the three-point shooting of Alan Griffin in the early part of the game.
Griffin brought out his inner Klay Thompson, as the junior made his first four three pointers as the Orange raced out to an early advantage.
Griffin’s exploits spread to the rest of his teammates as sharpshooter Joe Girard III and the rest of the team shot 66.7% from downtown in the first half.
Rider fell down as much as 23 points in the half and seemed destined to be the victim of a record setting loss as they fell down 29-8 with 10:54 left in the opening half, but the team responded well, keeping Syracuse scoreless and eventually went into the halftime break trailing 49-29, which felt like a victory considering the way the game opened.
Dwight Murray Jr. led the way for the Broncs scoring 10 of his team leading 20 points in the games opening half. The junior guard did much more than score, as he contributed in a multitude of ways in his Rider debut, earning six assists and six rebounds, too go along with three steals.
“Thank god for Dwight because he did a lot of really good things for us from start to finish,” Baggett said in his postgame press conference. “He was the most consistent on both ends.. I really like the way he competed and tried to get us in our offense at times. I thought he was pressing a bit at times, but I understand why, he was trying to get other guys involved.”
The Broncs were careless with the ball in the first half, accruing nine turnovers, but as they settled into the game their offense took better care of the ball. In addition, the team shot well in the first half, scoring on 42.3 percent of their attempts.
The second half started ugly as both team’s shooting dissipated with neither program scoring in double digits in the second half until Griffin scored Syracuse’s 10th point of the half after eight minutes had already elapsed.
One of the teams found their shooting touch in the second half. Unfortunately for Baggett and company it wasn’t Rider, as the Broncs went from trailing 21 points to down 31 points in a span of three minutes and nine seconds.
Rider’s new look team lost its luster and the game fell further and further out of their hands, with their offense only mustering 23 points in the second half, shooting a putrid 19.4% from the field.
One of the main differences in the game was converting turnovers into points. Rider actually had less turnovers than Syracuse. But, Jim Boeheim’s team turned Rider’s 15 turnovers into 18 points, meanwhile Rider was unable to capitalize off of Syracuse’s mistakes, gaining a mere five points off of Syracuse’s 16 turnovers.
“That was disappointing because if we could convert off of some of those turnovers I thought we had a chance of cutting into that lead and trying to make it a game,” Baggett said. “We had opportunities, but we didn’t finish, we had an open dunk with Ajiri [Ogemuno-Johnson], who gets his dunk blocked. Things like that, those are momentum killers, we got to take advantage of them when the opportunities present themselves.”
Rider did have some flashes of really good basketball and guard Allen Powell looked much improved in the opening game of his sophomore year, setting a career-high with eight points and Baggett said he thinks “that his role will continue to grow”, but to beat teams with superior talent you must shoot the ball efficiently throughout the game and convert on your opponents mistakes. Rider failed to do both in their opening game.
See Rider take the court next on Dec. 8, as they travel to Queens, New York to take on freshman sensation Posh Alexander and the St. John’s Red Storm.