By Rob Rose
After a 5-0 start to conference play, the men’s basketball team went 2-3 in its next five MAAC games.
“Everybody is starting to watch more film on us and adjusting to us,” said sophomore forward Dimencio Vaughn. “So, we gotta make more adjustments too.”
Rider secured a 59-51 win against St. Peter’s on Jan. 31, before a 75-71 loss at Monmouth on Feb. 2 and a 73-66 loss at Manhattan on Feb. 5.
Rider, 12-10 (7-3 MAAC,) stayed atop the conference despite back-to-back losses, but held just a half-game lead on Monmouth and one-game lead over Canisius, Quinnipiac and Siena.
On Jan. 31, Rider defeated St. Peter’s, the team who eliminated the Broncs from last year’s MAAC tournament, 59-51.
Although the victory was their seventh MAAC win of the season, the Broncs trailed at half for the fifth time in conference play and relied on a second-half surge to defeat the Peacocks.
Rider was down by six at halftime before it outscored St. Peter’s by 14 to complete the comeback victory.
After the Peacocks increased their lead to eight as the second half began, the Broncs unleashed an 8-0 run to tie the contest with 15 minutes left in the game.
Junior guard Stevie Jordan hit a jumpshot to give Rider a 34-32 lead with 13:46 and it never trailed again.
St. Peter’s battled back and cut the Rider advantage to two points with 5:17 remaining, but Rider held on for the 59-51 victory.
Junior forward Devine Eke scored a Rider career-high 12 points, grabbed five rebound, five steals and had two blocks.
The highlight of the game was a one-handed alley-oop dunk Eke finished off from a pass by Jordan that was No. 6 on SportsCenter’s top 10 on Jan. 31.
On Feb. 2 against Monmouth, Rider found itself down double-digits once again, but couldn’t pull off another miracle. The Broncs were able to erase an 18-point lead and took a lead early in the second half.
Head Coach Kevin Baggett used the same starting lineup that was on the court for majority of the second half of Rider’s regular season championship-winning season last year and the start of this year.
Sophomore guard Jordan Allen and Vaughn returned to the starting five along with Jordan, Marshall and Durham for the first time since Dec. 8, 2018.
Jordan was called for his fifth foul and was forced to sit for the remaining two minutes, and his foul created a three-point play which gave the Hawks a one-point advantage.
The Broncs took the lead back on a basket by junior center Tyere Marshall with 1:41 left in the game, but those were their final points.
Monmouth responded with a free throw to tie the game and then hit another pair from the free-throw line to take a 73-71 lead.
After a timeout by Rider, graduate student guard Anthony Durham attempted a three-pointer to take the lead, but his shot rattled around the rim and bounced out.
Monmouth grabbed the rebound with 15 seconds left and hit two more free throws to secure the 75-71 win.
Vaughn led Rider with 15 points, nine rebounds, a career-high five steals and dished out two assists.
Following the four-point victory for Monmouth, the last 13 contests between the Hawks and Broncs have been decided by a combined 21 points.
In the Feb. 5 game at Manhattan, Rider led by four at the break, but Manhattan responded early in the second half and took the lead.
The Jaspers took over with 17:31 left in the half and began a back-and-forth contest that saw the lead change hands three times in the first eight minutes of the second half.
Back in his home state of New York, Vaughn had another strong performance in The Empire State. In addition to the 19 points and seven rebounds he had against Wagner in Staten Island, New York on Nov. 24, Vaughn had 22 points against the Jaspers.
With the game tied at 56-56 with seven minutes left, Manhattan exploded for an 8-0 including a pair of three-pointers.
Rider battled back and cut the deficit in half with 3:26 remaining and trailed, 66-62 after a fastbreak layup by Jordan after a steal.
Over the final three minutes the Jaspers outscored the Broncs 7-4 to secure a 73-66 win.
“We came out with the right energy, we just didn’t finish with the right energy,” said Baggett.
Rider returns home for a pair of MAAC contests against Canisius on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. and Siena on Feb. 10 at 2 p.m.
The Canisius game will be on ESPNU, while the Siena contest can be streamed on ESPN+.
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