After a two-week pause that ended on Nov. 18, a whirlwind of moving parts that ended up being Rider’s non-conference schedule and two losses to much more talented teams, Rider finally started Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play taking one of its two games on the road against Manhattan on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12.
Despite a seemingly dominant 82-64 win over the Jaspers to kick off MAAC play, men’s basketball Head Coach Kevin Baggett wasn’t satisfied.
“I’m proud of our guys, we finally got in the win column, I thought it was a great team effort, we still got a long way to go,” Baggett said. “We still got to do a better job, we left a lot out there.”
Rider’s resounding win was anything but in the first-half, with the Broncs taking a 43-38 lead into the halftime break, however a 13-3 run to open the second half pushed the Rider lead to 15, giving it a large lead they never relinquished.
The team was once again led by Incarnate Word transfer Dwight Murray Jr. The junior guard had a gaudy statline, securing 12 of his 15 rebounds in the first half, along with 12 of his 20 points. Murray has been a superstar in his first three games as a Bronc and may be looking at an All-MAAC selection at the end of the year.
“I fit right in, as soon as I got here I was watching film with coach [Baggett] in the summer, just seeing how the offense works and I fell in love with the Rider way,” Murray said after his third straight game scoring at least 19 points. “He just told me if he could trust me and I could trust him, then I could be that glue guy for the team. My teammates helped me a lot with that, just being there, finishing shots and playing hard with me.”
Murray’s much more than a scorer, he’s a good rebounder, as made obvious by his performance in the game and a good passer, averaging 6.7 assists through his first three performances.
Murray also had help from a great supporting cast with three other Broncs getting into double-figures including redshirt sophomore center Tyrel Bladen, who set a career high in both points and rebounds.
Bladen and Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson enjoyed a great MAAC opener, platooning at the center spot and combining for 19 points and 12 rebounds.
The game was Manhattan’s first of the season because the team was unable to play any non-conference games as a result of Covid-19, something that may have aided the Broncs, who competed in two non-conference games.
“I think they both really helped us, with the pressure with the St. John’s game, then the Syracuse game with the zone. I certainly think our guys got more comfortable,” Baggett said.
Rider’s fourth road game in a week and the second game of its back-to-back against Manhattan ended up being an 87-77 loss.
The Dec. 12 matchup was the conclusion of the Friday-Saturday series that the MAAC deployed as its conference scheduling model for basketball, meaning Rider will have to do this nine more times this season.
Despite scoring more than 75 points for the third-consecutive game and shooting 48.3% from the field, Baggett was not happy with his team’s offensive output and even more disappointed in its defense.
“We didn’t execute well, we didn’t do anything well, we still scored that amount of points, can you imagine if we ran our offense and did what we were supposed to do? Be disciplined and then go on the defensive end and play defense the way that we were asking them to do,” Baggett said after the loss. “Maybe the results would be different, who knows. I think they would be.”
Rider’s second matchup against Manhattan started much like the one 24 hours before, only this time Rider went into the halftime break trailing after converting on only two of its eight attempts from beyond the arc in the first half.
Rider started the second half slow, allowing the Jaspers to get on an early run, scoring the halves first seven points, and getting a 51-41 lead.
A bankshot from sophomore guard Christian Ings mercilessly ended the run and a more than four minute scoring drought to begin the half, but the damage had already been done. Much like Rider the night before, Manhattan kept their early second half lead until the final buzzer.
Ings led the Broncs in scoring with 15 points on the night, but it went in vain as Rider’s defense was ineffective against Manhattan guard and Seton Hall transfer Ant Nelson. The guard controlled the game and was his team’s best player, scoring 27 points and grabbing six rebounds, leaving Rider powerless to stop him.
“It’s a work in progress, it’s also a manner of listening to the coaching staff,” Baggett said of his team’s defensive performance. “We can tell these guys whatever we want to until we’re blue in the face, but they got to go do it. We did not defend at all, we didn’t compete nearly as well, we thought we were just going to show up and the game was going to be easy like it was yesterday.”
Manhattan shot a resounding 66.7% in the first half and had an efficient second half as well scoring on 45.5% of their attempts.
Rider cut the deficit to as little as four in the second half, but was unable to keep up with Manhattan’s knack to put the ball in the basket.
The Jaspers forced Rider into foul trouble early in the second half, putting them in the bonus fairly early and giving them more free points than the Broncs preferred to give away. Manhattan converted 75% of its second half free throw attempts, making any attempt by Rider to claw back into the game an impossibility.
Murray had his lowest scoring game as a Bronc, only accounting for 13 points on the night and shooting below 40% from the field.
In the first half sophomore guard Christian Ings helped pick up Murray’s workload with nine points, as did junior forward Dontrell McQuarter with eight. Both players were unable to replicate its first half success with McQuarter being held scoreless in the second half and Ings scoring only six points in limited minutes during the last 20 minutes of play.
The loss brings Rider’s record to 1-3 on the season and an even 1-1 in MAAC play. The Broncs hope to improve heading into a tough series at Alumni Gym on Dec. 18 and Dec. 19 against Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino and the Iona Gaels.