By Rob Rose
After two victories at home, the men’s basketball team dropped back-to-back games on the road after a 76-58 loss at Drake on Dec. 19. Rider previously lost to Washington State on Dec. 17, 94-80.
“We had those breakdowns again defensively that we can’t have,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “I am encouraged by what we tried to do today in terms of focusing and grinding it out.”
Drake started from the bottom after Rider got out to an early eight-point lead. The Bulldogs were able to flip the switch, catch up and tied the game quickly. Despite it being a one-point contest at halftime, Drake was so far gone following a 10-0 run after the half, its advantage was too much and it was too good for Rider to come through with the win.
Junior center Tyere Marshall unleashed his best performance of the season against the Bulldogs. After he was relegated to a reserve role in the previous three games, Marshall was a Bulldog killer in the contest and was successful as he went to work in the paint for 21 points.
Prior to the Dec. 12 game against Norfolk State, Baggett decided to change his starting lineup because he believed his team had bought into the preseason hype about its accolades that made headlines. The Broncs’ record since the lineup change was 2-1. After three games on the bench, Marshall and sophomore guard Jordan Allen returned to the starting five.
Baggett pushed his alternate starting lineup with junior guard Kimar Williams and freshman forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson to the max, but nothing was the same as the five starters who led Rider to the regular season conference title last season.
After an unforgettable performance against Washington State where he tied his career high with seven three-pointers, Allen wasn’t able to light up the Drake defense. He scored eight points and made two three-pointers in the loss and although he had been able to score since he put on a Rider jersey, it had been child’s play for Allen in his three games as the sixth man.
Allen, who averaged 13.4 points per game in his freshman season, scored 20, 11 and 24 points in his three previous games off the bench and made 45 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
The grueling travel required for the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic, nearly 9,000 miles, has taken its toll on Rider. The Broncs were up all night with a pair of 4:30 a.m. flights before each road contest and only had a shootaround practice in the morning and the ride to the arena to get it together before the Washington State game. The unusual travel schedule is one of the sacrifices that come along with the blessings of the scholarships given to Division I athletes.
Despite the massive amount of travel, the Broncs appeared to be a brand new team and were charged up as the opening tip off went up following a day off on Tuesday, Dec. 18. Rider showed more life in the first half as it was able to look alive and keep the game close early on, unlike its previous game against Washington State.
One major issue that has given Rider problems had been the breakdown of its schedule. The Broncs had to wait forever, 11 and 13 days, between games and had played only seven contests in a month and a half before a stretch of four games over seven days.
Rider had used its depth to derail its opponent’s offense with its full-court press in each victory this season. Baggett was able to consistently shuttle in fresh players to bring nonstop energy on defense. Against the Bulldogs, just eight Broncs played more than 10 minutes as they tried to climb back into the game.
“I need to know I can trust guys when I put them in the game that they’re going to do the right thing” said Baggett. “I don’t know the lineup [at] this point.”
Sophomore forward Dimencio Vaughn struggled to stay out of foul trouble once again. Against Washington State, Vaughn fouled out in 19 minutes and also fouled out in the loss against West Virginia on Nov. 28. Vaughn scored seven points and swiped three steals in 26 minutes.
The Broncs were able to take care of the basketball in the contest with 11 turnovers, compared to the Bulldogs’ 14. Rider also grabbed 10 steals and scored 10 points off turnovers.
After the game, Rider turned its attention Northern Colorado as it prepared to change locations once again. The Broncs will get back on the court sooner than later, with their next game on Dec. 22 at 4:30 p.m. in Las Vegas, Nevada. Rider hoped to leave Nevada with an addition to its case of trophies before losses in the first two games of the tournament.
“We will be ready, trust me on that,” said Baggett.
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