By Justin Bonhard and Brandon Scalea
The men’s basketball team has now dropped seven of its last nine following two straight losses to top-ranked teams, Iona and Monmouth, respectively.
In front of a packed Alumni Gym and an ESPNU audience, Rider lost to the second-place Iona Gaels, 95-76.
Freshman guard Stevie Jordan, one of the frontrunners for MAAC Rookie of the Year who averaged 11.5 points and 5.3 assists per game this season, was notably suspended indefinitely shortly before Friday’s game.
Jordan released a statement about his suspension.
“I want to take this time to apologize to my coaches and teammates for violating team rules,” he said. “I will learn from my mistake and grow from this. I’m looking forward to being back with my team soon.”
The game started at a ferocious pace, with points being scored on both ends of the court. Iona’s forward E.J. Crawford opened the scoring for the game with a free throw and Kahlil Thomas opened the scoring for Rider with a layup.
With 4:06 remaining in the first half, senior forward Kahlil Thomas became the 36th member of the 1,000-point club in Rider men’s basketball history, thanks to a putback layup.
Iona took a commanding lead midway through the first half. The Gaels ultimately had a 14-point lead going into the locker room.
The second half started out as strong as the first half. Rider opened up with a press defense to keep Iona on its toes. However, the pressure didn’t help, as Rider couldn’t chip into the Gaels significant lead. The Broncs tried to hang in until the very end but lost by 19.
After the game, Baggett did not hide his displeasure with the team.
“Not a good performance by us today, we struggled in every facet of the game, especially on the defensive end,” he said. “We didn’t do much right today.”
Senior guard Jimmie Taylor led the Broncs in scoring with 16 points and grabbing six rebounds. Graduate forward Norville Carey came off the bench and made an impact with 11 points and 10 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the season.
Iona’s Sam Cassell Jr. and Jordan Washington scored 29 points and 24 points, respectively. Cassell Jr. nailed 7 three-pointers and Washington went 10-for-14 from the field.
Three days later, the Broncs were involved in another instant classic with in-state rival Monmouth. On New Year’s Eve, Rider arguably reached its peak when it went to West Long Branch and pulled off an impressive 93-90 overtime win. This time around, the Hawks were able to get revenge and win for the third straight year in Alumni Gym.
With Rider leading 69-68 with under a minute left in regulation, Monmouth’s reigning MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson drove to the basket, tucked the ball in like a football player, and put the ball off glass and in for the lead. The Hawks scored the next four points to put the game away, 74-69.
Taylor had a fantastic look from three-point range after Monmouth went ahead by one, but it rimmed out. Thomas just missed getting his hand on the rebound for a possible putback.
The ending sequence was just a small portion of a wild second half in which it seemed Rider had an answer for everything Monmouth threw at it. However, in the end, the first-place Hawks were just too much to handle.
Despite the loss, Baggett was much happier with his team’s effort.
“The team that normally shows up for us showed up tonight,” he said. “Some poor execution down the stretch, some poor shots, but all in all, if we continue to play like this, we’ll be fine.”
Sophomore guard Kealen Washington-Ives had arguably his best game in a Rider uniform, notching his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 assists. He didn’t turn the ball over once. Carey had a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds. Senior forward Xavier Lundy had 10 points.
For Monmouth, Robinson had a game-high 25 points and played the villain yet again in handing Rider a heartbreaking loss. In the last three contests between the two teams in Lawrenceville, the Hawks have won 55-54, 79-78 and 74-69, respectively. Robinson, as Rider fans will never forget, hit a cold-blooded, game-winning three to beat the Broncs on national television last season.
The Hawks’ win is their 10th straight dating back to Jan. 2, and it is their 20th win of the season, the second straight year they’ve reached that milestone.
In the post-game, Monmouth coach King Rice had nothing but praise for Rider and Coach Baggett.
“I think Kevin Baggett is as good of a coach as anyone, and we’ve got some really good ones in this league,” Rice said. “To have the game they had the other night, to be down to seven or eight guys, and we’re coming into your building after you beat us on our home court, and to play a game where we really, really needed some breaks down the stretch to win, I can’t say enough about the job Kevin Baggett does.”
Rider returns home on Feb. 11 when it hosts Quinnipiac at 2 p.m.