By Austin Ferguson
After blowing a huge lead late in the game, the men’s basketball team held steady in the final stretch and defeated Marist in its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) opener, 74-64 on Dec. 16.
“Certainly happy to get the win,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said. “We just have to clean some things up.”
The Broncs entered the game on the heels of a four-game winning streak and a 6-2 record, the best record in the MAAC and the best start Rider has had to a season since 2006.
Marist came to Lawrenceville, New Jersey, with a five-game losing streak and a 1-5 record, the worst in the MAAC at that point.
Rider and Marist played a close game to start things off. Though the game was tied at six through the first four minutes, Marist held a clear advantage. The Red Foxes made three of their first four shots, while Rider was just 1-of-5 to begin the game, relying on free throws for the rest of its points.
Marist guard Michael Cubbage made a layup for his sixth point in five minutes. The Broncs followed with a missed shot and a foul from redshirt junior forward Dimencio Vaughn to enter the first media break down 8-6.
After a made jumpshot from redshirt junior forward Frederick Scott tied the game at eight, Marist went on a 5-0 run over the next four minutes to put Rider down 13-8 with just under 12 minutes to go in the half.
The Broncs immediately cut into Marist’s lead out of the second media break with a three-point shot from graduate student guard Willy Nuñez, Jr that brought the Red Foxes’ lead down to two. Rider made a crucial defensive stop, forcing a shot clock violation, then drew a Marist foul to senior center Tyere Marshall, who made both free throws to tie the game.
The ensuing play until the next media break was dominated by senior guard Stevie Jordan. He first forced a Marist turnover, drew a foul and got himself to the free throw line, making both free throws and giving Rider it’s first lead of the game.
On the next Marist possession, Jordan stole the ball for the second possession in a row and broke out on the fast break for an easy layup and the Broncs had quickly took control of the game, leading 17-13 with eight minutes left in the period.
The Rider run did not stop there, as Marshall made a free throw and a layup to extend the Broncs’ lead to seven and complete a 9-0 run.
After Marist made three free throws, Rider scored seven more consecutive points, highlighted by Rider’s starting guards, Jordan, who got his sixth steal of the first half in the seven-point swing, and freshman guard Christian Ings. In six minutes, the Broncs went from down two to being up by 11.
Jordan had been prepared to play aggressively from what he had scouted prior to the game.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and the coaches told me that [opportunities] were going to be there, and it was there,” said Jordan.
After a free throw from Marist center Tobias Sjoberg and a layup from forward Braden Bell, Marshall made an and-one layup and made the following free throw to put Rider back up double digits. Scott followed with a three-point shot and the Broncs’ lead quickly ballooned to 13 points.
Both teams coasted through the final two minutes of the half and the Broncs went into the locker up ahead 38-26.
Defense was the name of the game for both teams. Marist forced Rider to shoot just 9-of-21 from the field, while the Broncs were able to manage Marist to 10-21 shooting.
“Defense definitely set the tone in the first half,” Jordan said. “We got a couple of steals and that led to some offense that we needed at that time.”
Rider held a clear advantage on the front of turnovers, forcing 14 of them in the first half, six of which came from Jordan steals.
The Broncs’ first-half lead was accounted for through free throws. Rider got to the line 20 times in the first period and made 17 free throws, which severely outnumbered Marist’s 4-of-5 mark early.
Marist struggled to put points on the board, with Cubbage being its only scorer of note with eight first-half points. On Rider’s end, Jordan led all players with 10 points in the first period. Marshall and Scott were close behind in the first half, each scoring nine points.
After 90 seconds of scoreless action to begin the second half, Bell took the lid off the basket with a three to cut Rider’s lead down to nine. Marshall quickly answered with a layup to bring the lead back up to 11.
Marist came right back at the Broncs and made back-to-back baskets to reduce Rider’s lead to seven leading into the first media break of the half.
Both teams traded baskets over the next three minutes until Vaughn scored four straight points and brought the Broncs’ lead up to nine. Shortly after, Jordan was sent to the foul line and made one of two shots and Rider was up double digits again.
After Jordan was fouled again and made another free throw, Marist forward Henry Makeny made a three-point shot and the Broncs’ lead was back to single digits.
As quickly as Marist scored, Jordan was sent to the free throw line for the third time in four possessions. Jordan made both free throws and Rider held a 50-40 lead with 11 and a half minutes to go in the game.
Following a pair of made free throws from redshirt senior guard Kimar Williams, it was Jordan that was fouled again attacking the basket. Jordan made both free throws, which brought him to 12 total makes from the charity stripe to that point, and Rider was ahead, 54-40.
Marist then scored five straight points to bring the Broncs’ lead back to single digits. Jordan and Marist guard Tyler Sagl traded threes headed to the 10 minute media timeout, and Rider was up, 57-47.
Out of the full timeout taken by Baggett with six minutes to go, the Red Foxes made a visible defensive push, suffocating Rider on inbound plays. Through a few stops, Marist was able to reduce the lead back to seven points with four and a half minutes left in the game.
With just over three minutes to go, Marist began to make a real push. The Red Foxes scored three straight baskets and the Broncs’ lead was suddenly just three points with two minutes to go.
Despite the fact that Marist closed the gap late, Rider was able to keep its distance thanks to late free throws down the stretch and won the game, 74-64.
Jordan was the clear star of the game, scoring 23 points, dishing out five assists and stealing six balls.
Marshall had a solid performance to compliment with 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Broncs’ biggest advantage, as it commonly has been, was free throws. Overall, Rider almost quadrupled Marist in free throw attempts with a 48-13 advantage and quadrupled the Red Foxes in free-throw makes, 37-8.
“These guys had worked on free throws all summer,” Baggett said. “They’re going up with confidence, they’re experienced, they’ve been there. This is an experienced group, and they’ve been at the free throw line a number of times in order to be able to be able to put us in an opportunity to be able to win.”
Rider is back to out-of-conference play for the rest of 2019, with its last two games of the calendar year coming on the road.
The Broncs next take on Temple in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 21 at 1 p.m. Rider is 1-12 all time against the Owls, with its only program win against Temple coming in 1975. The two teams have not faced off against each other since 1995.
Rider then takes the trip to Madison, Wisconsin, for a New Year’s Eve matchup against the University of Wisconsin at 7 p.m. The Broncs have played the Badgers once before, defeating them in the Puerto Vallarta tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in November 2012.
When asked if the Broncs were ready for their upcoming road trip, Baggett’s answer was cautious, yet confident.
“Yeah, we’ll be ready,” Baggett said. “We’re not ready right now because we’re going to take a day off, and get prepping on [Dec. 17] and get ready for Temple first, then get ready for Wisconsin at the end of the month.”