By Shaun Chornobroff
In the gym of Division III New Jersey City University, the men’s basketball team earned a hotly-contested and much-needed split against the Saint Peter’s Peacocks on Feb. 26 and 27.
The two-game series pitted one of the best offensive teams in the MAAC (Rider) against one of the best defensive teams (Saint Peter’s) the conference had to offer. When the opening game went to halftime, Rider was beating Saint Peter’s at their own game, leading the Peacocks 24-23 in a defensive affair.
The Broncs unraveled in the second half, with Saint Peter’s stifling defense accruing eight steals and forcing turnovers, all while only allowing the Broncs to shoot 33.3% from the field and 18.2% from beyond the arc.
“We just had breakdowns in the second half, between that and the defensive breakdowns, that was the difference,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said.
Rider seemed unable to find their footing in the second half, with one mistake after another, leading Rider to yet another defeat.
Rider held off the Peacocks for much of the second half, but a 20-3 run, which was aided by a multitude of mistakes from the team, saw the Peacocks pull away from Rider.
“Things compound,” Baggett explained. “One mistake after the next, we never come up with the 50/50 balls and the next thing you know, we either foul a guy or give up an and-one… It’s been a consistent thing all-year long.”
Junior guard Dwight Murray Jr. was the only Bronc to score 10 or more points on the night, accounting for 13 of Rider’s 52 points to go along with six assists. But even he uncharacteristically turned the ball over six times in the loss.
For the fourth time this season, sophomore guard Allen Powell set a career-high in points, scoring 25 points and making every one of his three-pointers that touched the rim in a 78-65 win over the Peacocks.
Powell made seven of his eight three-point attempts in the game, the only one he missed was his final attempt from beyond the arc, which was blocked by a Saint Peter’s defender.
After being held to a combined four points in his previous two outings, the scoring outburst was a nice reminder of the Philadelphia native’s talent.
“I definitely know I’m capable of it,” Powell said of his expert marksmanship in the game. “It’s just some days you have your off days and some days you have your great days, today I had a good day.”
Twenty of Powell’s points came in the first half, including two three-point heaves that beat the shot clock and looked like they were straight out of a video game. The sophomore’s contributions were crucial to the team taking a 12 point lead going into the halftime break.
“He’s a confident kid,” Baggett said. “He started it out for us, hit some big shots down the stretch with the shot clock running down and he got us going… It’s good to see him hit his shots tonight against a team that defends really well.”
Rider was also aided by the return of Dontrell McQuarter in the series. The junior forward had been missing from the team for more than a month, but he made his return to the court in the opening game and was back in the starting lineup for the victory.
“You see it in both games, with him we’re a better team, without him we’re struggling a little bit,” Baggett said. “To have him back, his leadership, his experience, his defense, it gives us another guy we can really trust on the defensive end as well as the offense.”
The victory breaks Rider out of the MAAC’s basement, putting it at 10th in the conference, virtue of a tiebreaker over Manhattan with two games left before the MAAC Tournament.
Rider will try to stave off Manhattan and a last-place finish when it concludes its regular season at Alumni Gym on March. 4 and 5 at 4 p.m.
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