By Austin Ferguson
It has been eight years since the men’s basketball team has been able to advance past the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament.
The Broncs have had some favorable matchups during that span, namely in 2018’s tournament when Rider won the MAAC regular-season title and was upset by ninth-seeded Saint Peter’s in the quarterfinals, 66-55.
On March 11, in a similar fashion to multiple other NCAA conferences, the MAAC announced that tournament games starting on March 12 will have limited attendance.
A press release from the MAAC stated that attendees to games will be limited to “student-athletes, coaches, event staff, essential team and Conference staff, TV network partners, credentialed media, and immediate family members of the participating teams.”
For the Broncs, the implications of playing closer to home with the tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey, seemed to be for naught.
Prior to the start of the tournament, Rider Head Coach Kevin Baggett expressed his excitement for fans to attend the MAAC tournament.
“We need [the fans] in the worst way,” Baggett said. “They’re unbelievable. They’ve done an unbelievable job here [at home]. To have them travel down [to Atlantic City] and be there for us means everything for us.”
Nonetheless, another solid opportunity to advance presents itself on March 12 when the third-seeded Broncs take on sixth-seeded Niagara in the MAAC quarterfinals.
The Purple Eagles earned their spot in the quarterfinals after a slim 56-54 victory over the eleventh-seeded Marist on March 10. Niagara was led by All-MAAC First Team selection Marcus Hammond, who scored 20 points in the two-point victory.
Notes on Niagara
The Niagara Purple Eagles arrived in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as the sixth seed in the MAAC after an almost-even 9-11 finish in league play. Niagara’s best play came in the Gallagher Center at Niagara University, New York, where it finished 9-3 on the season.
On the reverse side, the Purple Eagles were only able to muster two wins in 19 tries on the road. As it advances through the MAAC tournament, Niagara knows it has to lean on its sophomore star to give itself a chance for a deep run.
Hammond earned his All-MAAC First Team selection after averaging 16.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The Queens, New York, native was a notable threat from deep, shooting 42.5% from three-point range, good for third in the MAAC.
Hammond’s second-in-command when it came to scoring against Marist was fellow sophomore guard Raheem Solomon.
Solomon averaged just under 10 points per game during the regular season and scored 14 against the Red Foxes in the opening round of the MAAC tournament. Solomon’s best performance this year came against Iona on Jan. 12, when he notched a double-double with a season-high 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Notes on Rider
The Broncs enjoyed a strong finish to the regular season and nabbed the third seed with a Monmouth loss to Siena on March 6. Though its season had ups and downs, Rider has looked consistently competitive throughout MAAC play, only letting Iona sweep it in the season series by a combined difference of four points.
Rider has enjoyed its success due to the strong play from its veteran core from both the starting lineup and the bench.
The Broncs’ starters tout three years together to this point, with redshirt junior forwards Dimencio Vaughn and Frederick Scott, senior guard Stevie Jordan and senior center Tyere Marshall having reached 1000 career points.
Rider has best improved in holding first-half leads this season. The Broncs are 7-1 when leading at halftime.
The strongest performer amongst Rider’s core this season was Vaughn, who was unanimously named to the All-MAAC First Team. Vaughn averaged 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, enforcing his signature of leaving his defenders in bodybags with ferocious dunks throughout the season.
Marshall followed closely behind, averaging 12.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and posting eight double-doubles. Marshall’s eight rebounds per game average is third-best in the MAAC.
Scott has not been the flashiest player for the Broncs, but he has been consistent. The Simeon High School graduate finished 20 games with at least 10 points, second only to Vaughn for the team lead.
Jordan had an off-year when it came to the stat sheets, averaging a career-low 11.2 points per game, but finished the season strong, highlighted by a 19-point, seven-rebound and three-steal performance that tied Jordan for the Rider program record for steals against Fairfield on March 1.
Rider vs. Niagara this season
The Broncs and the Purple Eagles split this year’s regular-season series as each team won its respective home game.
At Niagara, a Hammond buzzer-beating three was the difference-maker on Jan. 17 as the Purple Eagles took down Rider, 70-68.
At Alumni Gym, a blowout that saw Rider lead by as much as 31 points ended in a 73-58 victory for the Broncs on Feb. 9.
Where to watch
Rider and Niagara’s quarterfinal matchup will be broadcast on ESPN3 starting at 7 p.m. on March 12.
For live coverage of the Broncs match against the Purple Eagles, follow The Rider News on Twitter @theridernews.