By Shaun Chornobroff
Rider opened up yet another series with a win, only for it to result in a split, with the team failing to secure a sweep of its back-to-back against the Marist Red Foxes that took place on Jan. 22 and 23 at Alumni Gym.
Despite missing junior forward Dontrell McQuarter, who was absent due to a family emergency, Rider had one of its most complete performances of the season, defeating the Red Foxes 76-64 in the series opening game.
Junior guard Dwight Murray Jr. paced the Broncs with another big outing, scoring 22 points, but it was a well rounded offensive effort from the entire team. Rider shot 49.2% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc, converting on 53.9% of its three point attempts in the second half.
Rider’s newfound offensive consistency may have come from the team’s new-look starting lineup without McQuarter.
Rider deployed sophomore guards Christina Ings and Allen Powell, alongside Murray instead of putting in a forward to replace McQuarter, essentially allowing the team to have three capable ball handlers on the floor at the same time.
Powell was second on the team in scoring with 13 points in the opening game, and although he didn’t score much, Head Coach Kevin Baggett was more than happy with Ings performance and a fan of the three guard lineup.
“I actually like the guards to be honest with you because I think it opens the court, gives you more ball handlers, spaces the court and sometimes it creates mismatches on the offensive end,” Baggett explained. “On the defensive end we might struggle against some bigger guys when you have the smaller guards, but we’ll figure that out as time goes on. But I like that, it just gives us more ball handlers and enables us to open the court up more.”
Rider’s offense was consistent, but it was their defense that allowed them to get out to an early lead. Rider forced 11 first half turnovers and led 36-26 at the break, the lead grew early in the second half, peaking at 20 points.
“We were playing great defense, when we play defense there’s energy,” Murray said when asked what helped the team get a big lead. “Everybody was knocking down shots, we weren’t putting our head down or anything like that, we just kept on playing.”
Rider’s depth showed on the night, as Baggett entrusted 10 players to take the floor and many of them had key contributions.
Junior guard Jeremiah Pope had a season high 12 points and graduate transfer Rodney Henderson Jr. had eight points and eight rebounds at the power forward spot, replacing McQuarter.
Rider made a loss that seemed heading towards embarrassment more than respectable, but dropped another near comeback and left its home gym with a 76-67 loss against Marist.
“Everything that can go wrong went wrong tonight,” Baggett said after the loss. “We battled back, but when you dig yourself a whole like that it’s going to be hard to come back and win, but give the guys credit because they didn’t give up, they came back and competed and got it under 10.”
Around twenty minutes before the start of the series finale against the Red Foxes, one of the rims at Alumni Gym was broken and had to be replaced, causing a 47-minute delay to the beginning of the game.
Whether or not the new rim was helpful is up for debate, considering Rider had a putrid first-half, making only 21.2% of their shots and only one of their 14 three point attempts on the new rim.
On the other end of the court, the Red Foxes were red hot, opening up the game on a 41-7 run. John Dunne’s normally offensive challenged team seemed unable to miss early on, making nine of their first 10 three point attempts, including a four-point-play in the games early stages
Rider went into the half with its heads hung low and the burden of a 51-22 deficit.
The team showed its resiliency in the second half, cutting the Marist lead to as little as seven and giving themselves a chance at a comeback, but failed to get the break they needed to take over.
Rider outscored Marist 45-25 in the last 20 minutes, shooting 56.3% from the field and making 66.7% of its three point attempts. Marist made only 38.5% of its second half field goals and an abysmal 20% of its shots from beyond the arc.
Rider’s guard duo of Powell and Murray once again carried the offensive workload for the second straight game. Powell set a career-high for the third time this season, scoring 20 points and Murray scored 16 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out eight assists, barely missing a triple-double.
Rider has played six weekend series’ this season and dropped the latter game each time.
Rider’s record is now at 4-8 in MAAC play and 4-11 overall, with a week off on the horizon, Baggett’s team will look to recover before traveling to face Saint Peter’s on Feb. 6 and 7. A time for the games has yet to be announced.