By Justin Bonhard
The men’s basketball team clinched the No. 6 seed in the MAAC Tournament after continuing to stay hot offensively, winning its final two regular season games.
Rider defeated Manhattan, 93-82, on Feb. 22, before defeating Quinnipiac, 99-82, on Feb. 27.
The first of the pair of contests was Senior Night for four Broncs, guard Jimmie Taylor and forwards Kahlil Thomas, Xavier Lundy and Norville Carey. Head Coach Kevin Baggett spoke highly of his seniors.
“At the end of the day, it’s a good group of seniors and this game was an important win for them,” he said. “To send them off the right way, and thank them for what they represent to Rider, to this program, to their family and for me.”
Rider won the opening tip-off but went down early with an opening three-pointer from Manhattan’s Calvin Crawford, who had 17 points on 7-for-13 from the field. Manhattan took a commanding lead for almost all of the first half. The Jaspers took a nine-point lead into the locker room.
However, Rider came out of the locker room and started to apply the pressure on defense as well as working the ball inside to their forwards on offense.
The Broncs scored 28 of their 46 points inside the paint in the second half, outscoring the Jaspers 46-18 for the game.
Thomas had 18 points and 9 rebounds, and Carey had 17 points and came down with 8 boards. Thomas said he’s been relying heavily on Carey inside as of late.
“We’ve always known he had it in him, but now it is starting to show,” he said. “He’s been picking it up a lot.”
Rider took the lead with a 9-0 run with 6:50 to go in the second half. After some back-and-forth scoring, Rider packed on the pressure and kept feeding the inside. Rider took the lead 76-74 on a free throw from Jimmie Taylor with 5:54 to go.
In the final six minutes of the game, Rider went 5-7 from the field. All five baskets came in the paint. Manhattan went 2-8 from the field in that span, which was one of the deciding factors in the game.
Manhattan shot only 30 percent from the field in the second half and was outscored 49-29. Rider had to face a tough press defense for most of the game, as the Jaspers wouldn’t give the Broncs any space to advance the ball up the court. This also opened up the middle of the court and helped lead to high percentage scoring chances under the basket.
Senior guard Jimmie Taylor scored 28 points, marking the fourth time Taylor has scored more than 25 points in the last five games. He knocked down a season high 11-13 free throws and added 3 three-pointers. Manhattan was led by forward Zane Waterman, who had 30 points and 9 rebounds.
Taylor reflected about how he told his teammates to use each other’s strengths to open up scoring opportunities.
“Tell everyone to stay aggressive, stay confident in their shots, we are capable of scoring and if the shots aren’t falling, keep shooting,” he said. “Go inside to our big men, if their shots are falling, then it opens up guys on the perimeter from 3 and, if those fall, it opens up more, we just feed off of each other.”
In Rider’s last game of the season, it defeated the Quinnipiac Bobcats (10-20, 7-13 MAAC) 99-82 on Feb. 26 at TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Connecticut.
Rider came into the game with the lowest free throw shooting percentage in the MAAC, shooting just 66 percent, but that was not the case that night, as the Broncs went 18-for-20 from the charity stripe. One of the big difference makers of the game was the Broncs’ defense.
Rider opened the first seven minutes of the game on a 14-6 run over the Bobcats. Then, Quinnipiac came firing back to take the lead 34-31with 5:28 remaining in the first half.
In a high-scoring first half, Quinnipiac held a 6-point lead into halftime, leading 51-45. Rider trailed in the second half until forward Tyere Marshall hit a jumper to take the lead 56-55, with 15:51 remaining. The Broncs would not let go of the lead for the rest of the game.
The Broncs were led by Carey, Thomas and Taylor. The three seniors combined to score 60 of Riders 99 points.
In the first round of the MAAC Tournament, Rider will face eleventh-seeded Manhattan for a third time. Despite being the last seed, the Jaspers have consistently been a tough out in the tournament, winning it all in 2014 and 2015.
The game will be on March 2 at 9:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN3. With a win, the Broncs would face Iona in the quarterfinals.
On Feb. 27, freshman guard Stevie Jordan was named to the All-MAAC Rookie Team. Thomas and Taylor both earned third team All-MAAC honors.