By Carolo Pascale
The opening game of the Rider men’s basketball regular season ended in heartbreak as a second-half stumble sent Rider home with a 66-65 loss to the Providence Friars on Nov. 8.
“I’m proud of our guys, and I’m proud of our effort,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “We gave ourselves a chance to win but didn’t come away with it. There’s no moral victory, but I am proud of how our guys persevered and continued to fight and get back into this game.”
With a full roster ready to make a statement, Rider stormed into the newly named Amica Mutual Pavilion in Providence, Rhode Island, jumping to a quick 8-4 lead off the hot hands of senior guard Dwight Murray Jr., who nailed two 3-pointers in the opening minutes.
Despite having the early lead, the Broncs made a change on the posts quickly, subbing out graduate student forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson for junior forward Tariq Ingraham to add more muscle on the boards.
Rider continued the torrid start by amassing a 32-17 lead with 5:32 left to go in the half, which was spurred on by senior forward Mervin James, who was making his retur from a sprained shoulder, and senior guards Allen Powell and Allen Betrand. Betrand had a nice play earlier in the half, saving a ball that deflected off a Friar before it went out of play.
Providence got back in the game after a familiar foe for the Broncs returned: foul trouble. Rider was victim to a large amount of fouls, with Providence being in the bonus territory with nine minutes left in the half.
The Broncs continued hit the 40-point mark off a Betrand 3-pointer with 1:16 left to go in the half. Rider did not score any more in the half, and it ended with the Broncs leading 40-30.
The Broncs shot a great 47.2% from the field and a fantastic 60% from the 3-point line. Murray and James both had 10 points, Powell had eight and Betrand had six in the first half.
“We weren’t scared. We came in, we felt like we’re going to win, and we still felt like we were going to win towards the end,” said Murray. “I just felt like in the beginning we were more physical than them.”
The second half was a completely different beast.
The Broncs essentially vanished from the court for the first 12 minutes, letting Providence go on a very long run that gave the Friar’s their first lead of the game with 10:40 left to go in the half.
Providence continued to run the floor as it pushed the lead further; however, Rider finally responded after Murray hit a 3-pointer with 4:45 left.
Fouls continued to haunt the Broncs as both James and Ogemuno-Johnson fouled out in the minutes leading up to the Murray 3-pointer, with Powell also having four fouls.
“Guys need to be smarter. They can’t reach in the open court. We’ve got to block out better,” said Baggett.
As the minutes continued to run down, the fire the Broncs had in the first half returned as they were able to claw back into the game in the final two minutes with Powell and Murray leading the charge.
Rider cut the lead to just a single point on a mid-range jumper off a rebound from Powell, putting the score at 66-65 with 39 seconds left.
On what was most likely going to be the last possession of the play, Providence put up a few chances, but a rebound of the rim bounced through the hands of redshirt senior forward Tyrell Bladen and bounced off a Friar player.
With 10.1 seconds remaining and a chance to win the game, the Broncs got the ball to Powell who tripped over his own foot just outside of the 3-point line and lost the ball, sealing the Broncs’ fate with a 66-65 loss.
“Really I just tripped over my own feet,” said Powell. “That’s basically it.”
The Broncs shot 9-for-14 (64.4%) from the 3-point line and 24-for-58 (41.4%) from the field. Murray led the Broncs with 18 points, and Powell finished with 15. Rider ended the game with 29 fouls.
The Broncs will return to the court of the Alumni Gym on Nov. 12 to face-off against their proximal foe: TCNJ.