By Carolo Pascale
For the first time since Mar. 4, 2020, Rider men’s basketball was able to play in front of a jam-packed Alumni Gym to welcome in the 2021-2022 season. To start the season, the Broncs faced off against Kutztown in an exhibition match during Homecoming Weekend on Nov. 6, winning 78-76.
Homecoming Weekend exhibition
The Homecoming Weekend exhibition against Kutztown was a good test for Rider to see what the team has and how it plays before the real games start. But before the match started, it was announced that last season’s leading scorer and stand-out player, senior guard Dwight Murray Jr., wouldn’t be playing in the game due to an undisclosed injury.
Murray not playing did seem to harm the Broncs, who struggled out of the gate. The Golden Bears were hitting everything, especially from the three-point line, shooting a fantastic 8-12 in the first half.
“Great job by Kutztown coming in and teaching us a few lessons when we’ve got to be ready to start the game defending,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett.
The defense was an issue in the first half, with the Broncs giving up six turnovers and allowing Kutztown to take a 43-29 point lead at the end of the first half. Rider couldn’t finish their shots when they had the chance, only going 13-34 from the field in the first half and sank just one three on nine attempts.
During the second half, the Broncs certainly found a way to shut down Kutztown’s three’s, reversing the first half stats, as the Golden Bears shot 1-8 from the three-point line. But that wasn’t the only stat the Broncs reversed as the offense woke up too, sinking over half of the shots they took from both the field and the three-point line.
“We came out of the locker room after having talked to our team and our guys did a great job of shutting them down from the three-point line, which was hurting us till the last shot,” said Baggett.
Graduate student forward Dimencio Vaughn, who transferred back to Rider after spending last season at Ole Miss said “Absolutely. Without question,” when asked if he made the right decision in coming back to Rider.
After taking the lead, both Rider and Kutztown passed it back and forth with neither side really taking control until the final minutes when the Broncs went up by five. But a free throw and some clutch shots by Kutztown’s Moe Williams made it a one-point game with four seconds left. The Broncs held on and secured the win, 78-76.
“I thought our guys did a great job. We miss our crowd, man. I’m telling you, we miss our crowd,” said Baggett, “Our crowd is a great home-court advantage with the Broncs Zoo. And the more they come out and support us, the better we’ll be the more we’ll feed off of them. And like I said, we’ll get better.”
Some of the key players for Rider were the returning Vaughn, junior forward Mervin James, junior guard Allen Powell and sophomore guard Corey McKeithan. All four players had over ten points with Vaughn and James having 19 points each. James, a transfer from North Alabama and a former high school teammate of Murray, shot 8-15 from the field and had five rebounds in his Broncs debut.
“I bring experience to the team,” said James, “So I would say me speaking out more, getting the younger guys involved and, again, helping them lock in more. So we could be a top conference team.”
The Broncs, now looking forward to their first real match of the season, face off against Duquesne on Nov. 9 in Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.