Handshake debacle puts Rider in spotlight

Head Coach Kevin Baggett and Siena coach Jimmy Patsos cool down after an altercation on Jan. 17.
Head Coach Kevin Baggett and Siena coach Jimmy Patsos cool down after an altercation on Jan. 17.

By Brandon Scalea

After a 4-1 start to conference play that saw the men’s basketball team sitting in first place and being featured on ESPN’s NCAA Tournament Bracketology, Rider has dropped five of its last seven, including a volatile loss at Siena on Jan. 17.

Stemming from incidents that occurred during and after the second half of that contest, both the Broncs and the Saints made headlines on Bleacher Report, Deadspin and College GameDay, among several other major sports platforms. There was a brawl, and Rider (13-10, 6-6 MAAC) left the court without shaking hands, leading to much debate on social media and among sports journalists the next day.

Things certainly got out of hand at the Times Union Center that night, in front of an ESPN3 audience. Here is a breakdown of how it happened.

Siena comes out firing in the second half

Rider led 45-40 at the break after a back-and-forth first frame, but Siena quickly took control after halftime. The Saints went on a 23-4 run to open the second, which effectively put the game away. Siena’s Lavon Long ignited this run with two buckets on his way to a career night of 29 points and 12 rebounds.

Javion Ogunyemi takes a hard foul

The Broncs cut the lead to seven with 2:24 left, before the Saints tried to finish an alley-oop at the other end. Siena’s big man Ogunyemi went up to dunk, but Rider graduate forward Norville Carey fouled him, and Ogunyemi fell to the court. The foul was not ruled flagrant.

Stevie Jordan is shoved, Anthony Durham responds

After Carey fouled Ogunyemi, words were exchanged between a number of players under the basket. Rider freshman guard Stevie Jordan was then shoved to the ground by Siena’s Marquis Wright. A brawl ensued, and Rider junior guard Anthony Durham appeared to throw a punch at Wright. Both Wright and Durham were ejected and received one-game suspensions from the MAAC.

The coaches get involved

Head Coach Kevin Baggett then ran the length of the court to the gathering and he appeared to be arguing with Wright. Siena Head Coach Jimmy Patsos then got in between Baggett and Wright, and the pair of coaches briefly yelled at each other. Both coaches were restrained by players and assistant coaches, before separating. No serious disciplinary action was handed to the coaches, but they had to sign the conference sportsmanship statement the next day.

Siena closes out the game; Rider leaves the court right away

Rider would get no closer than the seven-point deficit that preceded the late brawl. The Saints finished off a 78-68 win and the nearly 5,000 fans in Albany, New York, roared in approval. The cheers quickly turned to boos as Baggett led his battered team directly to the locker room, forgoing the customary post-game handshake. Freshman forward Tyere Marshall exchanged words with a group of Siena fans near the tunnel. What happened next was where things got really interesting.

Patsos takes matters into his own hands

As the Broncs left the court, Patsos still went down the line and pantomimed handshakes. Albany sportswriter Zach Bye took a video of the incident that went viral, getting nearly ten thousand retweets and likes by the end of the night. This video, as well as ESPN3’s broadcast, made this incident a national story. Baggett directed even more attention to it by dodging the post-game press conference. In his own post-game presser, Patsos notably said he and Baggett were good friends and that they’d hug it out next time they saw each other.

Later that night, after thousands of people on social media weighed in on the incident — with most questioning Rider’s sportsmanship — ESPN Insider Jeff Goodman got in touch with both head coaches.

“I decided not to shake hands because I didn’t want anything to escalate,” Baggett told Goodman. “That’s my prerogative, to protect my team whether anyone thinks it’s good sportsmanship or not.”

To this, Patsos, the new internet sensation, responded: “That’s a pretty good reason. I like Kevin a lot, and I respect his decision.”

Rider has struggled since the incident, with its only win in a six-game span coming at home against Marist on Jan. 21.

On Jan. 31, the Broncs completed a split of its annual Western New York road trip as they held on to beat Canisius, 72-66, for their first win in Buffalo since 2015.

Senior guard Jimmie Taylor led all players with 19 points, notably shooting 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. The Broncs came into the game as one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the nation.

Senior forward Kahlil Thomas, the MAAC leader in double-doubles, nearly got another one, as he finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. Carey, coming off the bench for the first time this season, notched double figures as well.

The win locked Rider in a tie with Canisius for fourth place in the conference. The top five teams at the end of the season earn a first-round bye at the MAAC Championships.

On Feb. 3, the Broncs play surging Iona (15-8, 8-4 MAAC) for the first time this season. The game at Alumni Gym is flexed for a 7 p.m. start on ESPN U. The Gaels are the defending MAAC champion and currently second in the conference standings.

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