By Austin Ferguson
After pulling an upset victory over the University of Vermont on Nov. 24 to win the Springfield Bracket of the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament, the men’s basketball team defeated Bucknell, 89-69, on Dec. 3.
Rider hosted Bucknell in its first home game of the regular season after having nine days off following its win over Vermont. The matchup between the Broncs and the Bison was the first since Nov. 18, 2005, when Rider was defeated at home, 5-4.
The Broncs entered the game trailing the all-time series against Bucknell, 25-29, but had a convincing lead in games that Rider hosted, winning 18 of 26 home matchups against the Bison.
Bucknell had prior experience in the current season against teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), splitting two matchups in the non-conference schedule. The Bison defeated Fairfield in their Nov. 5 season opener, 68-64, and lost to Canisius on Nov. 16, 83-81.
In Rider’s three games prior to Dec. 3, senior center Tyere Marshall had commanding control in the middle for the Broncs, averaging 21 points and 14.3 rebounds in that span to take home MAAC Player of the Week honors on Nov. 25.
The Broncs had a slow start after they found themselves down 12-9 after the first media timeout. Redshirt junior forward Dimencio Vaughn, however, was off to a hot start of his own, having made his first three shots from the field.
Coming out of the timeout, Rider’s defense quickly tuned itself up, forcing two turnovers from Bucknell guard Xander Rice, the son of Rider rival Monmouth Head Coach King Rice, who was in attendance at the game. The Broncs were unable to match that intensity on the offensive side of the ball and were still down, 17-13, at the second media timeout.
After Bucknell extended its lead to six, a pair of Rider defensive stands and a pair of graduate student guard Willy Nuñez, Jr. threes tied the game at 19.
Bucknell and the Broncs traded buckets before Vaughn converted an and-one layup and free throw to give Rider its first lead of the game with seven minutes left in the half.
Rider extended its lead to five points, only to have it shrink back down to one. The Broncs quickly re-extended that lead after Nuñez converted a four-point play to put Rider up, 32-27.
The Broncs were unable to pull away at the close of the half; Bucknell continued to push back at Rider. Down one after a three-point shot from Bucknell guard Avi Toomer, freshman guard Christian Ings was fouled on a layup attempt. Ings made the layup and the following free throw to close out the half as the Broncs went to the locker room with a 37-35 lead.
Rider’s biggest first-half advantage came at the free throw line. The Broncs got in 11 free throw attempts in the first period compared to Bucknell’s 4. Rider converted eight of their 11 chances at the line.
The Broncs started the second half the same way they ended their first; an and-one layup from Christian Ings. The second time around, however, Ings did not convert the free throw as Rider’s lead was extended to four.
After a made jumper from Frederick Scott and a pair of empty possessions for Bucknell, Rider got itself to the free throw line again through Tyere Marshall. Marshall converted both free throws and the Broncs’ lead grew to 43-35.
Bucknell made an attempt to rally back with a couple of successive buckets, though Dimencio Vaughn and Ings quickly silenced the comeback attempt with baskets of their own to keep the Rider lead at eight.
Bucknell Head Coach Nathan Davis was assessed a technical foul for smacking the score table after Bucknell center Malachi Rhodes, who was making his first collegiate start, committed his fourth personal foul. Nuñez hit one of two technical free throws and senior guard Stevie Jordan converted a layup shortly afterwards to put the Broncs up double digits.
Following traded baskets from both sides, Jordan hit an open three pointer from the corner to put Rider up, 58-45, with 12 minutes to go.
The Broncs made a move to coast from that point on. Led by Vaughn and Marshall, Rider’s lead ballooned to as much as 21 points as the Broncs looked to be poised to dominate with ease over the last 10 minutes of the game.
Bucknell made an attempt to close out the lead down the stretch. Off the back of a 10-0 run, Bucknell shortened the lead to 11 with four minutes to go.
After a timeout from Head Coach Kevin Baggett to pull the team together, Rider pulled itself back together, re-extended the lead to as much as 23 points, and ended the contest victorious by a final score of 89-69.
Of the 10 Rider players who saw action, six landed themselves in double figures for scoring. Vaughn led the way with 19 points, while Marshall, Jordan, Nuñez, and Scott all finished with 14 points. Ings finished the game with 10 points.
Despite the 20-point loss, Bucknell forward Bruce Moore had a game high 20 points, with Avi Toomer following him closely with 18 points.
Marshall also grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds against Bucknell to secure his third double-double of the season. Marshall almost doubled the Broncs’ next leading rebounder, Frederick Scott, who grabbed seven boards.
With the exception of Scott, every Rider player dished out at least one assist against Bucknell. Stevie Jordan led all Broncs with five assists in the game. Guard Jimmy Sotos was the only Bucknell player with multiple assists, dishing out a game-high 10 in the matchup.
Nunez continued to have a hot hand from deep throughout the game and finished 4-of-6 from three-point range.
“We needed [Nuñez],” Baggett said. “Obviously, we lost Jordan Allen, a really good shooter, [redshirt sophomore guard] Tyrei Randall has not played for us at this point, so we certainly need Willy’s three-point shooting, it was huge tonight.”
Baggett highlighted that Nuñez’s contributions on the court far exceed his shooting ability.
“Just his leadership and experience is huge for us as a fifth-year player,” Baggett said.
Nuñez saw his experience as his biggest asset coming into his only season with the Broncs.
“Coach and I have always had the conversation about me coming in and being experienced, being one of the older guys,” Nuñez said. “We try to lead the younger guys by example and we try to stay together throughout the whole process.”
Although this season is the only one for Nuñez, he felt the rest of the team helped welcome him as a part of the team.
“I felt really good [coming in]. The team’s really family oriented, so as soon as I came in, they took me in as if I was their own brother and that was the best part of it,” Nuñez said.
For Rider’s defense, Dimencio Vaughn called himself an “energizer bunny” for the rest of the team.
Vaughn said, “It’s about talking each other up. Just having that right mindset and being able to get stops. It’s fun when we get stops.”
The Broncs face another lengthy break before their next game. Rider stays at the Alumni Gymnasium to take on Long Island University (LIU) on Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. The matchup will be the first between the two programs in their respective histories.
Shortly following its game against LIU, Rider will get a taste of MAAC play in a rogue conference matchup against Marist at home on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. The Broncs have swept their regular-season games against the Red Foxes for the past three seasons, winning their last six matchups.