By Rob Rose
The men’s basketball team lost in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) to Oregon, a Final Four team from last season. The teams met on March 13 at Matthew Knight Arena on Oregon’s campus.
Rider showed no signs of intimidation against the Power Five school, jumping out to a 7-3 lead in the game’s first two minutes. Freshman forward Dimencio Vaughn opened the scoring with a layup, and freshman guard Jordan Allen and sophomore forward Tyere Marshall added a three-pointer and layup, respectively.
— Oregon Men's Basketball (@OregonMBB) March 14, 2018
After back-and-forth play, the Broncs finished the quarter strong behind 10 points from Vaughn. The All-MAAC First Team member finished the contest with a game-high 25 points, and after one quarter, Rider led 21-15.
This year’s NIT featured experimental rule changes, including swapping two 20-minute halves for four 10-minute quarters, matching NCAA women’s basketball.
The second stanza began with Rider forcing turnovers by Oregon and creating easy points. Freshman guard Tyrei Randall stole an errant Duck pass and sprinted down the court, missing the layup, but Allen followed with the put-back.
Two free throws from freshman forward Frederick Scott pushed the Rider advantage to nine at 24-15 as Oregon struggled to create an offense early. The Ducks turned the ball over eight times in the first 13 minutes of the game.
After a missed three-point attempt by Oregon, sophomore guard Stevie Jordan broke out for an uncontested layup to give Rider a 28-18 lead and forced a timeout by the Ducks with just over five minutes left. Oregon kept the game close by connecting on three-pointers, shooting 14-for-26 from beyond the arc.
After a 6-0 spurt by the Ducks, Jordan finished a layup through contact but failed to complete the and-one opportunity. Vaughn collected the rebound and hit a layup to score two of his 10 first-half points.
Oregon cut into the Rider lead in the final minutes of the second quarter with stellar three-point shooting, but the Broncs carried a 44-36 advantage into the locker room for halftime.
Marshall continued to dominate around the basket to begin the third quarter, finishing a layup through the Oregon defense. The Broncs’ outscored the Ducks in the paint, 50-34.
A deep three-pointer from Allen and a sweeping layup by Jordan pushed the Rider advantage to 51-39, but Oregon responded with a run of its own. The Ducks went on an 11-0 spurt over the next 1:44 to cut the lead to 51-50 Rider.
After an up-and-down final five minutes, the Broncs finished the third quarter leading 65-61 after Scott completed an and-one opportunity after being fouled on a dunk attempt.
Oregon led for less than two minutes in the first three quarters, but the fourth quarter was a different story.
“We’re not going to make excuses. We needed to guard,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “We needed, when the game was on the line, to take care of the ball a little better and we just didn’t do it.”
The Ducks opened the fourth quarter on fire, connecting on back-to-back three-pointers by Victor Bailey Jr. who hit seven times from beyond the arc. Marshall quieted the neon Oregon crowd, completing a three-point play to tie the game at 68.
The Broncs took their last lead of the game at 72-70 on a contested jump shot by Allen. The Ducks dominated the fourth quarter offensively, hitting their first 10 shots and only missing once from the field.
Oregon continued to rain three-pointers on Rider, and the Broncs had no answer. The Ducks outscored their opponent 38-21 in the final quarter to secure the 99-86 victory.
“First and foremost, I’m just proud of our guys,” said Baggett. “I’m proud of the way that they battled and competed all year long. I love these guys.”
Rider finished with 22 wins this season, second to the 2007-08 and 2010-11 teams. The Broncs have never won a postseason tournament game, which includes the NCAAs, NIT and other mid-major tournaments.
“I think this past year was a learning experience because we exceeded a lot of people’s expectations and maybe even some of our own,” said Jordan. “It shows that if we put things together and stay focused on the big picture, we can win a MAAC Championship.”
Next year’s team will feature familiar faces as Rider will return its entire starting five and usual rotation off the bench. With the entire team a year older coming off a regular-season title, the Broncs will be a preseason favorite to repeat as champions.
“We’ve got a lot to build on. I’m excited about it,” said Baggett. “We talked about it in the locker room. The sky is the limit for this group. I challenged them, each and every one of them, to get better – get better in the offseason, get stronger in the offseason, come back even better. I want to win championships. We’re going to do that.”
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