By Shaun Chornobroff
Rider slipped further down the abyss of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), dropping two tightly-contested games against a Siena team that came into the weekend undefeated.
However, the Saints were without MAAC Player of the Year Jalen Pickett, who was absent due to injury. Even without Pickett, Siena has an argument to be one of the two best teams in the MAAC because of how deep and versatile its roster is.
“They’re really good with him or without him, they’re even better with him,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said after the first game of the series. “He’s not a one man show, they got a really good team and they showed that tonight.”
Despite a career-high 25 points from Dwight Murray Jr. and 17 points and 12 rebounds from junior forward Dontrell McQuarter, Rider dropped the opening game of its weekend series against Siena, 78-69.
“For the most part I thought our guys did a really good job,” an oddly optimistic Baggett said after the game. “There were some calls out there that I thought were questionable, but I thought as a whole we did a good job.”
Rider was the underdog in this game even without Pickett, but fought hard for an upset. Both teams battled and with 6:11 left the game once again was tied at 59.
The Saints ensued to go on an 11-0 run that saw them grab momentum and grow their lead to 70-59 with 2:18 remaining.
The run was sparked by Siena guard Jordan King, who had 21 points in Pickett’s absence, but also some questionable refereeing.
McQuarter and junior center Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson were called for suspect offensive fouls on consecutive possessions that swung momentum.
After saying “I’m not going to comment,” Baggett changed his mind and said, “I didn’t think they were fouls… they were very questionable to me.”
Murray has been Rider’s best player all season and this may have been his masterclass, but he wasn’t satisfied. The junior guard set an aforementioned career high in points, made some timely three pointers and even had a ferocious slam dunk in the first half. But what the junior guard wanted most eluded him.
“I had 25 [points], but I want the win more than anything,” Murray said. “It’d be better if I had 25 and a win today. I gotta do way better leading this team to a W.”
Rider seemed to be well on its way to a blowout loss early in the second half, as it faced a seemingly insurmountable 17-point deficit. The team showed its resiliency once again, but suffered a heartbreaking 74-72 loss that came down to the final shot.
“We fought our way back, I think we put ourselves in a hole when we got down by 17,” Baggett said after the loss. “The character of this team to stay together, to have the final shot for a chance to win the game or tie the game because [Dwight Murray Jr.] stepped on the line, just speaks volumes about our guys not giving up.”
Trailing 73-69 with eight seconds left, sophomore Allen Powell received an inbounds pass and despite being smothered by a defender, knocked down a corner three that would have created a raucous if fans were allowed in Alumni Gym.
Rider intentionally fouled Siena on the ensuing inbounds pass and the Saints made one-of-two free throws, making the score 74-72 with 6.1 seconds left.
Riderthen got the ball in the hands of its star player: Dwight Murray Jr. The transfer from Incarnate Word raced down the floor, but his valiant attempt to push the game to overtime clanked off of the back of the rim and secured a winless weekend for the Broncs.
“I’m encouraged, but we’re better than that,” Baggett said of the team’s comeback effort. “We just got to play like that from the start to the finish.”
Powell’s late game-three was one of four treys he made during the game. The sophomore guard was inserted into the starting lineup for both games against Siena, his first starts since Dec. 8.
The Philadelphia native struggled in the series opener, being held scoreless in 24 minutes of play. But Baggett showed his confidence in the young guard and kept him in the lineup.
“I wanted [Powell] to show that he’s the Allen Powell that we know he’s capable of being, being more aggressive and being the player that we recruited in here,” said the former MAAC Coach of the Year.
While the team did lose, it wasn’t because of Powell. The 6-foot-2 floor general rewarded his coach’s faith, scoring a career-high 18-points and showed his intelligence on the floor.
Rider currently sits at 3-10 on the season and 3-7 in MAAC play, but looks to grab a much needed win on Jan. 22 at 4 p.m., when it travels to Connecticut to take on Quinnipiac.
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