By Brandon Scalea
The men’s basketball team maintained its winning record, after splitting its stretch of four road games from Nov. 16-26.
Rider (3-2) defeated Hartford to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2009-10, before dropping two straight to South Florida and Fordham. The Broncs then snapped their losing streak with a come-from-behind win at Wagner.
Sophomore guard Kealen Washington-Ives said the team is happy with the record, but knows it could easily be better.
“I feel like we’re playing all right right now,” he said. “We could realistically be 5-0, but we didn’t play the way we are capable of playing each night. We have yet to play our best basketball.”
On Nov. 16, Rider traveled to Hartford, a team it beat in double overtime last year in Alumni Gym. This time around, the Broncs didn’t need late heroics to knock off the Hawks, as they cruised to an 84-68 win.
Senior forward Kahlil Thomas posted his first double-double of the season with a dominant performance, scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Senior forward Xavier Lundy added 19 points, shooting 8 of 13 from the field. Freshman guard Dimencio Vaughn had a breakout night, sinking 6 out of 9 shots off the bench for 15 points. He also added a game-high four steals.
The game was tight in the first half, before the Broncs pulled away late. In the opening minutes, both teams exchanged buckets. There were 10 lead changes before Rider went on a 9-1 run to make it 28-20. Hartford then recorded the next seven points to close the gap to 28-27. However, the Broncs led 41-35 at halftime.
Rider never relinquished the six-point lead, as that would be the closest Hartford would get for the rest of the game. Three nights later, the Broncs headed down to Tampa for a test against American-Conference powerhouse, South Florida (USF). Despite a three-point lead at halftime and leading as much as eight in the second half, the Broncs fell just short to the Bulls, 70-65. A total of 10 turnovers and a meager two assists in the second half hurt Rider.
Senior forward Xavier Lundy had another big night for the Broncs, shooting 50 percent from the field for 16 points. He just missed a double-double, posting nine rebounds.
The home team was able to build a lead as much as five, but the Broncs closed the first half on a 12-4 run to take a 37-34 lead.
Early in the second, USF came back to take a pair of one-point leads, threatening to pull away. But Rider turned the small deficit into its largest lead of the game, 53-45, with just over 11 minutes left.
After the Rider lead became 60-55, the Bulls went on an 8-0 run to take the lead, and they never looked back, outscoring the Broncs 15-5 the rest of the way. Ives said the Broncs should have won the game.
“We didn’t execute down the stretch,” he said. “We didn’t get the stops that we needed to seal the win. It was a learning experience for us, though.”
Against Fordham on Nov. 23, a rough first half put Rider in a hole. The team shot only 40 percent in the first frame, to Fordham’s 45 percent. After the game was tied 3-3 early on, the Rams went on a 21-4 run to take a commanding 24-7 lead midway through the first. The Broncs were never quite able to recover.
In the second, Rider gave Fordham a run, closing the gap to just four at one point. But every time the Broncs threatened, the Rams hit a big bucket to pull away again.
In the loss, Thomas recorded his second double-double of the season with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
On Nov. 26, Rider got back on track with a comeback win over Wagner.The same Seahawks team also defeated the Broncs on a buzzer-beating put-back-dunk last season at Alumni Gym — a play that was featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.
In the contest, a trio of freshmen led the way for the Broncs and was key in the second-half surge that resulted in the win. Vaughn, guard Stevie Jordan and forward Tyere Marshall all had double-digit points. Vaughn had a game-high 13 points.
Rider trailed by as much as nine several times throughout the game. With 5:39 left in the second half, Jordan hit a jumper to give the Broncs their first lead, 57-56. The shot came in the midst of a 14-2 Rider run. The Broncs held onto that lead, and led by as much as five.
After five games on the road, Rider will finally play its home opener at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1, when Fairfield (5-1) comes to town. Washington-Ives said the team is excited to play at Alumni Gym, but knows it will be a challenge.
“We will have a huge crowd there and we are looking for our first conference win,” he said. “But we know they’re a good team. If we play disciplined, while also being the aggressor early, we should win.”