By Matt LoPuzzo
Riding high after wins against Iona and Niagara over the past week, Rider carried the momentum into a thriller against the Manhattan Jaspers on Jan. 22, extending its winning streak to three games via a 67-65 win on its home court.
“We’re starting to come together as a team again. More guys are starting to help,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett.
The Broncs’ starting five were aided by crucial plays coming off the bench, including sophomore guard Adetokunbo Bakare blitzing Manhattan’s Samir Nelson, junior guard Corey McKeithan making plays on both ends and junior forward Nehemiah Benson’s clutch free throw with only seconds remaining.
The madness of 17 lead changes, with the largest lead being only six, made for a wild Sunday afternoon, giving little moments the chance to sway the outcome of the entire game.
Manhattan won the tip and got on the board first. It was a rocky start on both ends for the Broncs, who quickly found themselves in a 12-6 deficit, the miscommunication on defense causing easy baskets for Manhattan’s fifth-year forward Josh Roberts who finished with 18 points.
Trying to build momentum, the Broncs found a bit of energy from an emphatic slam dunk from graduate student forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson that missed but got him sent to the line.
While the Broncs were finding ways to get themselves into the paint, their lack of a solid perimeter defense was a huge obstacle.
“Once we figure it out, then we’re fine. But we gotta figure it out a little sooner,” said Coach Baggett about his team’s perimeter defense.
Star graduate student guard Dwight Murray Jr. didn’t light up the scoresheet, but his impact was still showing early with a dish to Nehemiah Benson and a scoop and finish to knot things up at 24 a piece.
With three minutes remaining, senior guard Allen Powell drained the Broncs’ first three of the game. The whole season Rider has been winning games despite shooting poorly from behind the arc for the majority of the season.
“You gotta execute. You gotta make those shots inside the three point line that you’re supposed to,” Coach Baggett said about the success with the lack of three-point shooting.
Coming into the half down two, the Broncs came out strong thanks to six straight points by senior guard Allen Betrand who finished with a strong 12 points.
Later in the half, Mckeithan knocked down his third field goal of the game, tying the score at 50.
Just as the Broncs started to get things going, Manhattan’s Samir Stewart splashed a three and blew a kiss to a Rider fan, but momentum started shifting back into the Jaspers favor soon after.
Bakare was inserted into the game and gave the Broncs a needed spark, causing multiple stops that helped Mervin James and McKeithan tie things at 64-64 with 4 minutes left.
The game swung back into the Broncs’ court with a layup by Dwight Murray Jr. with a minute left coupled by another defensive stop that sent Nehemiah Benson to the line to hit the game-winning free throw.
The battle with the Jaspers was the latest in a trio of efforts in which the Broncs have emerged victorious.
“The more we stick together, the more games we’re gonna be able to pull out,” said senior forward Mervin James about the bond of the team and how it affects the game.
The Broncs will look to stretch their win streak to four on Jan. 27 in Poughkeepsie, New York, against the Marist Red Foxes.