By Corey Donetz
For the first time in 15 years, the Rider men’s basketball team has fallen to 0-4 to start the season, as it lost convincingly to Robert Morris, 83-57, 10th-ranked Pittsburgh, 86-78, and finally the highly anticipated home opener against Drexel on Tuesday, 80-62, which was televised on ESPN.
Things did not look up for the Broncs’ as they lost to Pennsylvania (2-1) in overtime, 78-72, on Thursday night.
During the Drexel game, both teams played well in the opening minutes, showcasing solid defense and matching buckets, despite the odd 6 a.m. tip-off.
“The 6 a.m. [start time] did not play a role in us losing,” senior forward Novar Gadson said. “Once the ball was tipped and the game was under way it was just like any college game; no one really worried about the time.”
Gadson, who has recovered from offseason knee surgery, has wasted no time getting back to business. He led the Broncs with 14 points and three blocks in the loss.
The scoreboard was even for most of the first half until around the five minute mark, when Rider broke an 18-18 tie by going on an 8-0 run to make the score 26-18. Poor execution in the final minutes of the half allowed Drexel to counter with a run of its own, eventually tying the game, 28-28 at halftime.
Drexel (1-0) picked up where it left off before the half, coming out on a 10-2 run, which Rider never seemed to recover from. Neither team executed well offensively, but Drexel cashed in on its second-chance opportunities throughout the game. The Dragons dominated Rider on the boards, out-rebounding the Broncs 45-34.
“We have to box out and crash the glass hard,” sophomore forward Daniel Stewart said. “We’ve been out-rebounded all three games.”
Junior guard Jon Thompson stepped back into the starting lineup against the Dragons after being suspended last season for impermissible benefits. Thompson scored seven points while snatching eight rebounds.
The Broncs rely heavily on the three-point shot, and it was clear that it was not falling for them on Tuesday. Rider shot an abysmal 3-18 from behind the arc, making just one three-pointer in the second half.
“We didn’t execute throughout the game,” Gadson said. “We didn’t make shots, missed free throws [and] didn’t rebound. I can go on and on [about] why we didn’t win, and it’s our job as a team to get it together and figure out what’s going wrong and fix it.”
Rider made a slight run to cut the deficit to 43-40, but Drexel went on another 15-0 run to make the score 58-40.
Drexel also had mechanical errors as the game was winding down, which left the door open for the Broncs. The Dragons made 17 out of 24 free throws down the stretch, but the Broncs were unable to take advantage of the free points themselves as they made 17 of 26 from the charity stripe. Drexel had a big enough lead to hang on for the 18-point victory.
Senior forward Samme Givens dominated down low for Drexel, scoring a game-high 21 points while grabbing seven rebounds. Sophomore guard Frantz Massenat scored 21 points of his own while dishing out four assists. He also had five rebounds.
Senior guard Jeff Jones, who transferred to Rider with one year of eligibility left after playing three years at Virginia, made his debut in Alumni Gym. Jones had a game he’d like to forget, scoring four points on 1-8 shooting. Stewart recorded a double-double, compiling 12 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Anthony Myles added 13 points.
“At times, we show glimpses of how good we can be,” Stewart said. “We just have to work on playing hard for 40 minutes.”
This past Sunday, Rider showed the talent that they have by going blow for blow with nationally ranked Pittsburgh (2-1)
The Broncs held a lead with under five minutes to go; however, a crucial turnover by senior forward Brandon Penn gave Pitt the opportunity to shut the door on Rider and hang on for the 86-78 win. Myles scored 20 points for the second time in two games, while three other Broncs were also in double figures. Stewart, Gadson and Jones each had 18, 17 and 15 points, respectively.
The Broncs also suffered a bad loss in the season opener against Robert Morris (2-0). Rider never seemed to be in the game, falling down by 20 at the half.
Sophomore guard Corron Williams led the way for Robert Morris with a game-high 28 points. Myles led Rider with a career-high 20 points. Rider turned the ball over an appalling 25 times, giving the team no chance to win.
“Even though we are having a rough start to our season, it’s important that we stay together throughout this time of frustration,” Gadson said. “Playing these out-of-conference games are preparing us for our conference games in a couple of months. We would rather go through a rough time now and grow as a team than go through rough times come January or February.”
Rider will play in Alumni Gym for the third straight game on Monday as it takes on Howard.
“We are going to be fine,” Gadson said.