By Thomas Regan
After learning its leading scorer, senior center Matt Lopez, will be out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, Rider received contributions from two sophomores in a second-place-clinching victory at Monmouth on Feb. 26 and a home win over Marist on March 1.
Against Monmouth (6-24, 5-15 MAAC), Rider jumped out to a quick 14-7 lead with baskets from six different Broncs. However, the score was evened at 15 after the Hawks went on an 8-1 run.
For the remainder of the first half, Rider (21-10, 15-5 MAAC) and Monmouth traded leads, before entering halftime tied at 25.
After allowing the Hawks to sink a layup at the start of the second half, Broncs’ sophomore forward Xavier Lundy and junior guard Teddy Okereafor scored 14 points to push the team ahead 39-31.
The brief run gave Rider a sizeable lead, and despite Monmouth’s effort to come back by sending the Broncs to the free-throw line, Rider was able to make enough of its shots to fend off Monmouth and win 63-60.
Sophomore guard Jimmie Taylor believes his team will continue to step up in the absence of Lopez.
“Next man up, that’s how we are,” he said. “It hurts to have [Lopez] away, but the next guy has to step because we have to keep this thing going.”
The game against last-place Marist came on the heels of Rider securing the second seed in the MAAC tournament, so the result of the contest could yield no changes to its postseason chances.
The Broncs struggled to get on the board early in the game, making zero of their first seven shots, including four misses from beyond the arc. It wasn’t until Lundy came off the bench and scored 6 of Rider’s first 7 points that the offense began to show life.
However, Rider continued to struggle with its 3-pointers, eventually falling behind Marist 18-9.
The Broncs later closed the gap to 21-15 and the defense began to pick up the pace when freshman guard Anthony Durham stole the ball and threw down a vicious dunk on the fast break, igniting the home crowd.
Graduate guard Anthony D’Orazio snapped the team’s first 3-point drought with 6 seconds remaining in the first half to end it 23-21.
In the second half, Rider was able to tie the game at 28 before the offense received shots from Okereafor, D’Orazio and Lundy to go up 35-32.
With their first lead of the contest, the Broncs saw Taylor exploit a Marist team that was on its heels for the first time all game. Taylor sank two 3-pointers before freshman forward Kenny Grant hit a layup to push Rider up 43-32.
While the Red Foxes tried to get back into the game, Taylor did not allow it, sinking another 3-pointer, a jump shot and a layup to put Rider ahead 50-37. Taylor finished his four-minute barrage with 13 points and his effort led the Broncs to an eventual 59-49 win.
“It’s just having a steady hand and staying aggressive,” Taylor said. “My teammates rallied around me, telling me to stay confident in myself.”
After playing the final game of the regular season, Rider will head to Albany on March 6 and await the victor of St. Peter’s (14-17, 8-12 MAAC) and Fairfield (7-23, 5-15 MAAC).
Head Coach Kevin Baggett believes his team will need to continue to see all of his players turn in contributions.
“We need to be more fluent offensively; we need to push the ball a little bit more in transition like we did in the second half,” he said. “I thought Xavier played well, but we’ve got to get [Junior Fortunat] and Kenny Grant and Khalil Thomas going down there, we’ve got to get those guys going to make up for what we’re missing in Matt.”