Despite mixed weekend, Rider snags first-round bye
By Carolo Pascale and Matthew LoPuzzo
The Broncs saw highs and lows in their penultimate weekend of the regular season, first earning a first-round conference tournament bye in a tightly contested 69-66 win against Siena on Feb. 24, and then falling to Mount St. Mary’s 63-58 on Feb. 26.
‘Rider basketball at its finest’
It was set up as the biggest game of the regular season — Rider versus Siena on national television, the winner holding the No. 2 spot in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), and did it ever live up to those expectations.
After what felt like a precursor for the MAAC Tournament, the Broncs were able to hold on and marched the Saints back to Siena with a gutsy and hard-fought 69-66 win on Feb. 24 giving them the second seed in the conference.
“I know we kept everybody on edge,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “But it is the MAAC and it is Rider basketball at its finest.”
Senior guard Allen Powell was the backbone of the win, knocking down a season-high 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting from the field. Powell, who’s had his fair share of ups and downs in his time at Rider, has been on a heater as of late, scoring 10 points or more in four straight games.
“I always believe in my game,” said Powell. “I still got the same confidence coming into every game.”
Allen’s production was assisted by 17 points from fellow senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. and 14 points from senior forward Mervin James.
Siena jumped out to a quick lead, but Rider took it for itself and made it as large as 10 points as the first half ended in a 37-27.
Siena powered back to take the lead again as the Broncs started to falter, but Murray and Powell were undeniable, as they made it a shot-for-shot game with four minutes left. It stayed that way until James was fouled with 13 seconds left.
James made both crucial free-throws, and then Powell was fouled. He only made one, which gave Rider a three-point lead, and Siena a chance to tie the game. Murray had other plans, however, as like a football safety, picked off a sailing pass and drove to the hoop for the game-sealing shot.
“[Murray and Powell] grabbed everybody. I saw it down the other end when they were on the free throw line. They got in a huddle; whatever they said, they did it,” said Baggett. “It’s not Coach Baggett, it’s these guys, and I’m riding along with them.
‘A very inconsistent team’
On a weekend where Rider took down the second ranked team in the MAAC, the Broncs got brought back down to earth with a 63-58 loss to Mount St. Mary’s on Feb. 26.
The Broncs honored the 1993 Northeast Conference (NEC) Championship team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Rider’s current team came out flat and it was ultimately their downfall against the Mountaineers.
“The game was lost in the first half,” said Baggett.
The Broncs started the game with their bread and butter: attacking the paint. James got things started for the Broncs, contributing seven of their first nine points.
With a couple pretty reverse layups for the Mountaineers, Rider found themselves in a tied ball game and did not see the lead the rest of the way.
“We didn’t want to play physical, they did. So we settled for shots today,” said Baggett.
The Broncs fell into a nine-minute scoring drought midway through the first half, and Murray’s appeared visibly frustrated.
Coming off a win against Siena, emotions were running high, but the honeymoon phase hit the Broncs and went into the locker room at half down nine points, shooting 30% from the field and 1-of-10 from three.
“We’ve been a very inconsistent team. Do I want to wait to come back? Absolutely not,” said Baggett.
James tried his best to help the Broncs with a pull up jumper, finishing with another stellar performance of 14 points and nine rebounds.
“Come back to practice, do everything we did before and lock back in together,” said James.
Rider had its chances to win this game and shot themselves in the foot with 10 missed free throws and the inability to grab a late rebound.
The Broncs have a chance to get back on the right foot on March 2 against Saint Peter’s before having first-place Iona travel to the Broncs’ Zoo for the regular season finale on March 4.