By Austin Ferguson
“The struggling stops today,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said.
Following a loss to Quinnipiac on Jan. 7 that saw multiple starters sit in the second half, the men’s basketball team lost to Iona, 69-66, on Jan. 10.
With the 2020 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championship trophy on display in the neighboring Student Recreation Center, Rider took on the four-time defending champions Iona in Alumni Gym on Jan. 10.
The Gaels’ MAAC schedule was off to a slow start entering the game — Iona lost to Saint Peter’s on Jan. 3 and Monmouth on Jan. 5, accumulating a conference record of 0-2.
The Broncs’ record entering the Iona matchup was more favorable. Despite the loss to Quinnipiac, Rider won its first two MAAC games against Marist and Siena respectively to come into the Iona matchup 2-1 against conference opponents.
Despite the Broncs’ troubles to take care of the ball in the first few minutes of the game, Iona was unable to take advantage, making its first shot of the game and missing the next five. The Gaels eventually shook off the slump and scored a few points but a Rider offensive outburst led by an early eight points from senior center Tyere Marshall put the Broncs up in the first eight minutes, 19-10.
Out of the second media break, both teams went scoreless for three minutes until a free throw from senior guard Stevie Jordan took the lid off of the basket and gave the Broncs a double-digit lead.
After a layup from Iona guard E.J. Crawford, both teams went on another scoring drought, this time for two-and-a-half minutes, again being broken up by a free throw from freshman guard Christian Ings to put Rider up 21-12.
With two minutes to go, Iona had taken advantage of an 0-for-9 Broncs shooting stretch to bring the lead down to four. Rider put an end to the drought with a thunderous slam dunk from sophomore forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson to bring the lead back to six.
Iona followed the Ogemuno-Johnson dunk with back-to-back baskets from Iona guard Isaiah Washington to bring the game within two points.
The game was tied as the halftime buzzer rang.
Both teams had a similar first half when it came to shooting. Iona shot 10-of-23 from the field and 2-of-10 from three while the Broncs shot 10-of-24 from the field and 1-of-11 from three. Iona held the lead in rebounding with a 17-15 edge over Rider in the first half, but the Broncs took better care of the ball, only turning the ball over seven times compared to Iona’s 11 turnovers.
Only one player for each team scored in double figures in the first period. Crawford led Iona with 10 points, while Marshall led all scorers with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half. Marshall also led Rider with five rebounds, though Iona forward Tajuan Agee led all players with seven boards in the first period.
Gist started off the second half with a three-point shot to give Iona a three-point lead. The three was quickly answered with a layup by Marshall to cut the lead down to one.
A steal from redshirt junior forward Dimencio Vaughn led to two free throw opportunities for Ings. He converted one of the attempts to tie the game at 30. Immediately after, Washington drove to the paint, converted a layup and drew a foul. Washington converted the and-one free throw to put Iona back up by three.
Following empty possessions for the Broncs, Gist hit his third three of the game to put Iona up by six headed to the first media break. Out of the timeout and into the next media break, both teams traded multiple baskets, finishing with an and-one layup by Marshall to bring the Iona lead down to five.
With 12 and a half minutes left in the game, Jordan came up hobbling after grabbing a rebound and immediately called timeout, favoring his upper right leg. Jordan returned to the game about three minutes later, only to leave the floor again just a few short minutes after.
“I guess he was just cramping up,” Baggett said. “He was sick the last couple of days, so I’m sure he’s just dehydrated.”
Washington drilled a three to put Iona back up by eight, which was answered by a mid-range jumper from Ings. Washington came back on the next possession with a layup and Marshall answered that with a layup of his own to bring the game within six.
After a stop on defense, graduate guard Willy Nunez, Jr. hit a three to bring the game within one possession. Rider got the ball back quickly after and redshirt junior forward Frederick Scott drew a foul. Scott hit one of the two shots from the charity stripe to bring the game to a 50-48 score with nine minutes left.
Iona answered the Broncs’ 6-0 run with a three to beat the shot clock from Crawford. The Broncs came back and hit back-to-back threes off the hands of freshman guard Allen Powell and Nunez, Jr. to make it a one-point game.
Iona looked to regain some of its lead with a made shot from Agee, but it was soon answered with a drawn foul from Vaughn, who made both free throws to bring the game back within one with five minutes to go.
On the other side of the court, Crawford airballed a three and Vaughn retook the lead for Rider with a second-chance layup. The Broncs found themselves up, 58-57, with just four minutes to go.
Two Iona baskets and an Ings three tied the game with three minutes left. After a minute of scoreless play, Washington hit a three to give Iona a lead.
With 50 seconds to go, Washington hit a layup for a possible dagger, putting Iona up by five. Rider questionably took their time on the next possession but it finished with a layup from Vaughn to make it a three-point game again.
Crawford and Agee were both able to sink late free throws to put Iona up by four. Dimencio made a prayer from three to bring the game within one with less than five seconds left, though the Broncs left Crawford open for a dunk at the buzzer as Rider lost its second-straight game, 69-66.
A lack of consistent defense was the focus of the Broncs’ troubles for Baggett after the game.
“We had too many breakdowns,” Baggett said. “When it all comes down to one-on-one, you have to be able to keep your man in front of you.”
Though Marshall scored 20 points and Ings dropped 14 of his own, it was Rider’s free throw and three-point shooting that led to its demise. Iona did get hot from the field in the second half, led by Washington’s 17 points off of 7-of-11 shooting from the field, but Rider shot just 10-of-24 from the free-throw line and 8-of-28 from three, which ultimately gave the win to the Gaels.
Marshall had two simple things that he felt would help get the team back on track.
“We gave up too many 50-50 balls, too many offensive rebounds and we have to make free throws,” Marshall said. “If we did those things, we win this game.”
Rider next travels to Poughkeepsie, New York, to take on Marist for the second time this season on Jan. 12 at 2 p.m. On Dec. 16, the Broncs defeated Marist in their MAAC opener, 74-64.