By Carolo Pascale
For the first time since the 2019-2020 season when the team finished fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and had its title chances stripped due to a global pandemic, the Rider men’s basketball team have won a trio of consecutive games, defeating Siena on Feb. 4 and Manhattan four days later.
A True Team Effort
On Feb. 4, a flourishing, visibly confident Rider squad took over Siena University’s MVP Arena, earning a crucial and convincing 74-60 win in a place it had not won in since December 2012.
“Before we went out on the court … I was like, ‘We’re about to get our first win here since I’ve been here,’” said senior forward Dimencio Vaughn. “I believed it, and we all got it done as a group.”
Vaughn led the way, putting up 24 points and eight rebounds, but the Broncs’ hot streak was certainly a team effort, as their chemistry finally began to bubble after months of frustration and, more importantly, resilience.
“This team’s been hungry all year long. We’ve lost some tough games down the stretch, and sometimes it’s just about learning how to win,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “Everyone is bought in, and our guys are tired of losing.”
The victory gave Rider its third win in its last four conference games, earning it a then 4-7 record in the MAAC after a bleak 1-6 start.
The Broncs also snapped another long-standing streak against Siena as they won back-to-back MAAC games for the first time since February 2020.
“Each and every one of ’em is rooting for each other, coaching one another up. All the credit goes to these guys for putting in the work and for putting up with my ass when I’m all over ‘em,” said Baggett.
While Rider’s recent success had no doubt been a collective effort, the impact of junior guard Allen Powell became particularly prominent, especially after his lackluster start to the season.
“[Powell’s] actually taken a huge leap towards taking a leadership role on the team, offensively and defensively,” said Vaughn. “He’s not really a talkative guy, so when he speaks everyone listens.”
Over the last four-game stretch, Powell averaged 18 points per game, far above his season averages of 10.7 points per game.
“Three or four games ago, I went to [Powell] and I said, ‘What’s the difference?’ He said, ‘Coach, I’m tired of losing. Enough is enough,’” said Baggett. “He’s growing up. He’s playing with an edge, man, and I’m so happy for him.”
Three Straight Wins
Three straight wins in MAAC play. Something not done by Rider since the 2019-2020 season. That was the goal for the Broncs on Feb. 8. However, to reach their goal it, meant they would have to defeat the Manhattan Jaspers.
They did just that defeating Manhattan 76-67.
“We are getting better every game,” said Baggett. “These guys have been unbelievable, the scouts, the preparations, which is equaling the success.”
It was clear from tipoff that it was going to be a tight game, with both the Jaspers and the Broncs first possessions ending in turnovers.
Senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. took over as the Broncs scoring leader after forcing a big turnover about halfway through the half, finishing the play off with a huge dunk that sent a large Rider crowd into a frenzy.
“It was loud, everybody was on our side,” said Murray. “We was talking, they was talking. It just felt good out there.”
Both teams ran incredibly fast paced offenses, paired with smothering defenses, the game had already turned into a battle of wills and spirit.
Big plays, fouls, defensive stands and points were abundant in those final seven minutes of the first half, which was capped off with a buzzer beating Manhattan 3-pointer. At the end of the first half, the score stood deadlocked at 38.
Vaughn finished the half with 16 points and seven rebounds, leading the team in both categories. Murray also put down 11 points for the Broncs on 4-for-7 shooting from the field, and was a perfect 2-for-2 from the three. Despite that production, the Jaspers matched the Broncs, and were red hot from the beyond the arc, shooting 53.8% from the three.
The second half was much of the same in terms of play, with the Broncs and Jaspers trading blows back and forth while jockeying for the lead.
With the game being so close, any play that shifted possession in favor of the Broncs got the crowd at Alumni Gym cheering. Those plays were coming more and more often as the second half ensued.
Once again, midway through the half the game was tied. But those big time plays kept coming, one of which came from Powell, who stole the ball away from a Jasper at their own three and drove the ball to the rim for a big 3-point play.
Powell kept the offense rolling for the Broncs after it hit a bit of a snag near the nine minute mark of the second half, drilling a long jumpshot to get the lead to six.
Manhattan kept pushing, but the Broncs finally started to break the game open around with 3:30 left off back-to-back layups from junior forward Mevin James, pushing the score to 69-63.
Once the final minutes ticked off the clock, the Broncs secured their third straight win for the first time in nearly two years, winning by a final of 76-67.
“I thought the turning point was back when we lost for Canisius,” said Baggett. “I thought we had turned a corner then. We struggled earlier and we were all looking for some answers, but these guys have stuck together the entire time.”
James was a major part of the last minute, making huge defensive stops and blocks from all angles, keeping Manhattan at bay. He finished the game with 16 points while shooting a fantastic 8-for-10 on the night.
“I felt like I had been struggling, but the more that I put my hands out and slide my feet, I feel like I have a good chance of guarding anybody,” said James.
In total, four of the five starters reached double digit points. Murray led the Broncs with 21 points, Vaughn had 20 in another double-double performance, James had 16 and Powell had 13. As a team the Broncs shot 45.8% from the field despite only shooting 20% from the three.
The Broncs will look to push their winning streak to four when they travel to Jersey City to take on the Saint Peter’s Peacocks on Feb. 11. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.