By Austin Ferguson
In what has been an unpredictable season in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), the men’s basketball team split the weekend with a loss at Siena on Feb. 14 and a win against Quinnipiac on Feb. 16.
The Broncs traveled to Albany, New York, on Valentine’s Day to take on Siena, which was undefeated at home in 10 games. With the intensity of the upcoming matchup evident, the game was flexed from a 7 p.m. start to 9 p.m. in order to have the game aired on ESPNU.
The first half proved how dominant the Saints have been at home this season. Siena was the first to score and built a lead as many as 22 thanks to a 13-0 run to end the period with the Saints leading 39-17.
Siena guard and MAAC Preseason Player of the Year Jalen Pickett led the Saints with 17 points in the first half on 7-of-9 shooting, including going 3-for-4 from three-point range. Redshirt junior forward Frederick Scott led Rider in scoring with just five points in the first frame.
Despite the 22-point Broncs deficit at halftime, Head Coach Kevin Baggett was impressed with the composure of his squad.
“Nobody dropped their heads,” Baggett said. “They all realized that each and every one of us had a part in us being down this far and figured out, ‘one possession at a time.’”
After the Saints extended their lead to 25 in the first minute of the second half, the Broncs, especially Scott and senior guard Stevie Jordan, pushed the lead down to just 11 points.
With 11:45 to go in the second half, redshirt junior forward Dimencio Vaughn finished a three-point play to bring the game within single digits.
Following what was a 13-0 run for Rider, Siena regrouped and re-established a large lead. The Saints were up again by as many as 16 points and ultimately won, 73-64.
“We scored 47 points in the second half. If we play like that in the first half, we’d be better off,” Baggett said.
Scott led Rider overall in scoring, finishing with 21 points on the night.
The win for Siena boosted its home record to 11-0, which later improved to 12-0 after a win over Manhattan on Feb. 16.
The Broncs came back to Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on Feb. 16 looking to carry their momentum of the second half against Siena against Quinnipiac, which was in the midst of a four-game skid.
Due to illness, redshirt senior guard Kimar Williams was not with the team for its Feb. 16 game against Quinnipiac. Starting in his place was graduate guard Willy Nuñez, Jr., making his third start of the season.
Vaughn was able to keep junior guard Rich Kelly off tempo to begin the game as he forced a miss from three and a traveling violation in the Bobcats’ first two possessions.
Vaughn got into a rhythm of his own, hitting a 3-pointer to start the game’s scoring. Kevin Marfo hit one of two free throws to get the lid off of the basket for Quinnipiac.
On Rider’s next possession, Nuñez, Jr. was fouled on a 3-point attempt, which he made. Nuñez, Jr. converted the free throw to complete the four-point play and put the Broncs up 7-1.
Rider kept rolling with another stop on defense and a crafty lay-in from Jordan to increase the Broncs’ lead to 9-1, forcing Quinnipiac Head Coach Baker Dunleavy, son of former NBA player and coach Mike Dunleavy, to call a timeout.
Quinnipiac began to make shots out of the timeout but the Broncs didn’t slow down on offense as they led 15-9 into the first media break.
Out of the break, a mid-range jumper from Vaughn and a corner three from Scott rocketed the Broncs into a double-digit lead. After a defensive stop, Vaughn drilled a 3-pointer, drawing another Bobcats timeout as Rider was up 23-9 just over seven minutes into the game.
The Broncs extended their run to 12-0 over the previous five minutes with a floater from Nuñez, Jr.
With eight minutes to go, after a Jordan free throw, Marfo scored the first Quinnipiac points since the 15:32 mark.
Kelly went into the paint for a layup attempt that was spiked by Randall, which in turn gave Ings an open lane for a dunk, putting the Broncs up 31-13.
Out of the under-eight minute media break, Marshall drew a foul and made a free throw to extend Rider’s lead to 19.
A touchdown-like pass from Marshall to Jordan to give the Broncs a brief 21-point lead before allowing a 3-pointer to Kelly. Vaughn answered to put Rider back up by 20 with five minutes left in the half.
The pace of the game slowed down significantly over the next five minutes to Quinnipiac’s advantage as the Bobcats were able to score 11 unanswered points in that span to close the half down 36-27.
Rider had a red-hot start to the game that was brought to a grinding halt with a stagnant offense in the closing five minutes of the half, not being able to score in that span.
The Broncs began the second half just as they did in the first; hot. Rider went on a 9-0 run over the first three and a half minutes, which ended with a basket from Quinnipiac guard Matt Balanc.
Marshall answered Balanc’s bucket with an and-one layup on the other side of the floor. Marshall was short on the free throw but Rider was up 47-31.
Following a free throw that didn’t fall short for Marfo, Randall bottomed his second 3-pointer to boost the Broncs’ lead back to 18 points.
Vaughn finished two highlight dunks against the Bobcats, the latter of which sent waves through the Rider social media community when he soared over Quinnipiac guard Tyrese Williams, knocking him to the ground.
“Honestly, I didn’t see [Williams] under me,” Vaughn said. “I was going to dunk it anyway.”
The last 10 minutes of the game was smooth sailing for the Broncs. Rider led by as many as 22 as the Broncs coasted into victory, 79-63.
Baggett was extremely happy about Rider’s defensive efforts.
“Good defensive effort from start to finish… I care about getting stops, which I thought we did a really good job,” Baggett said.
Rider will spend the next week on the road in two away matchups against Iona on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. and Saint Peter’s on Feb. 23 at 2 p.m.