By Jacob Tiger
After losing back-to-back conference games at home, the Rider men’s basketball team began a three-game road trip on Jan. 19 with a highly-anticipated rematch against Quinnipiac, who bested Rider in an overtime thriller on Jan. 15.
Unfortunately for the Broncs, they fell short of evening the season series, ultimately losing 73-67 due to poor execution in the game’s critical moments.
“This team can win if they just f—ing play smart down the stretch,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “We gotta learn from our mistakes and we’re not doing that soon enough so it’s costing us games.”
Despite solid play in most areas, the Broncs’ inability to get to the foul line was the difference-maker. Quinnipiac finished with 25 attempts, while the Broncs only scrounged up five attempts, with four of them coming in the last few minutes of the contest.
“It had nothing to do with officiating. It had to do with us being aggressive,” said Baggett. “They leave their feet quite a bit, but we never get teams in foul trouble because we don’t know what we’re doing.”
The loss was made even more disappointing given how well the Broncs were playing up until the game’s final minutes.
In the second half, they went on a 12-0 run to go up eight with only six minutes left to play, but in the end, they crumbled defensively and were their own worst enemy on the offensive end.
“That’s not good team basketball. Turning the ball over when nobody is really forcing the turnover… they‘re all self-inflicted things,” said Baggett. “We’re celebrating when we make a basket and the game is still going on. Those are things, if you’re a good team, you just don’t do.”
Rider was without senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. for the game, as he was sidelined with a foot injury, but Baggett’s expectations remained high and he was hopeful that some of his other players could step up in Murray’s place.
To his dismay, his hopes would not come to fruition.
“Despite the fact that DJ [Murray] was out, we have guys on this team that are capable but just won’t execute and finish down the stretch,” said Baggett.
Sophomore guard Corey McKeithan was one such player for the Broncs, going 0-7 from the field in 26 minutes.
“[McKeithan’s] gotta learn how to be a point guard. He’s just dribbling the ball around like it’s high school. It’s not high school anymore,” said Baggett. “These are opportunities he’s gotta go out there and take advantage of.”
While most of the Broncs were struggling, junior forward Mervin James did all he could to keep them in the game, having one of his best games of the season. James totalled a game-high 24 points and eight rebounds, shooting 58.8% from the field and 75% from three.
Baggett was optimistic about Murray’s availability for Rider’s Jan. 21 game at Canisius College.
Now sitting at 1-5 in conference play and 5-11 overall, the Broncs are desperate to get back in the win column on Jan. 21 against Canisius.
“They’re fighting. I don’t ever question that. We don’t always play smart but the guys are playing hard,” said Baggett. “I believe in them still.”