By Carlos Toro
On Nov. 13, the men’s basketball team began its 2015-16 campaign by hosting Princeton for only the second time in history. The Broncs would lose to their crosstown-rival 64-56, before traveling to La Salle on Nov. 17, where they lost 73-60.
The Tigers (1-0) controlled the perimeter on both offense and defense for the first half, making five three-pointers while Rider could only drain one.
In the second half, after a quick layup by Princeton’s junior forward Pete Miller, Rider’s offense exploded. They scored seven straight points, including 13 points in about four minutes to momentarily take a 37-34 lead with 15:28 remaining in the game.
Senior forward Shawn Valentine said that the team’s communication was on point and the reason for the big run.
“We locked in on defense and had more communication on defense,” Valentine said. “We had good transition and we did a lot of talking with each other. That’s what it came down to later in the game. We lost that communication.”
The good times stopped there as the Tigers answered with a 9-0 run of their own. From that point forward, Princeton controlled the game and its lead was never less than five points as Rider could not muster the necessary offense to mount a second comeback as it fell to the Tigers.
Princeton got a huge game from freshman guard Devin Cannady. Cannady finished with 17 points in 23 minutes of action, which is the most points scored by a freshman in a Princeton season-opening game in three years.
Valentine scored a career-high 15 points, while junior forward Kahlil Thomas finished with 12 points. Junior guard Jimmie Taylor and graduate guard Teddy Okereafor, both named to preseason all-conference teams, struggled on the offensive side, with a combined 4 for 18 from the field in the game.
After the game, Head Coach Kevin Baggett said that defensive mistakes were a big reason why the team lost and allowed Princeton to make four more three-pointers than Rider.
“We didn’t do a good job contesting their jump shots,” Baggett said. “As a team, we have to do a better job guarding the ball.”
The City of Brotherly Love did not welcome the Broncs warmly when they took on the Explorers.
Rider’s struggles in defending the three-point area continue as the allow La Salle to shoot nine three-pointers in the game. The Broncs have permitted opponents to score on 35 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc.
It was a close contest to start, with neither having a lead higher than four points for the first 13 minutes of the game, but the Explorers’ offense then ran away with the lead thanks to a 15-4 scoring run in the next six minutes.
Rider led only once in the contest, as La Salle padded a lead as high as 22 in the second half. The Broncs did not score enough baskets to make it a competitive game. The Broncs did not cut the Explorers’ lead to single-digit points in the second half.
For the second game in a row, Okereafor, who was named on the Preseason All-MAAC first team, struggled from the field. He would finish the game with a grand total of 2 points, going 1 for 6 from the field.
Baggett had enough of his graduate guard early in the second half, and pulled him from the game.
The one positive for the Broncs was the play of junior forward Xavier Lundy, who finished with a career-high 19 points and 4 rebounds.
The Broncs now face a significantly difficult stretch, having to travel to No. 3 ranked Maryland on Nov. 20 as part of the Cancun Challenge. It will be the second season in a row in which the Broncs take on a Big Ten program.
They will then play Cleveland State in Cancun on Nov. 24, followed by either South Dakota State or Houston Baptist on Nov. 25 as part of the Cancun Challenge.
While losing the first two games of the season is always tough, Baggett insists that they will not panic, especially with such a long season ahead of them.
“We are not going to panic, but we have to play better,” Baggett said. “We just got to play smarter. We have to defend and we can’t have breakdowns, especially when the game is on the line.”