By Shaun Chornobroff
Rider’s poor start to the season continued in an 81-66 non-conference blowout loss at Alumni Gym to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
The loss increased Rider’s losing streak to four games and dropped the team’s record to 1-6, the worst start the team has endured in Kevin Baggett’s tenure as head coach.
“There weren’t many areas I can say we were very good today,” Baggett said after the team’s latest loss. “We got too many guys’ mentality that their offense dictates their defense which has been a problem from day one for us that I noticed right away.”
For much of the first half Rider found baskets harder to come by than a winning lottery ticket. The team was unable to put the ball in the hoop, converting only 29% of its shots and was less than a minute away from going the entire first half without a made three-point attempt. For the third straight game, Rider had a double-digit deficit in the first half and the team went into the halftime break trailing the Highlanders 33-23.
“We just got to compete from the start,” junior guard Dwight Murray Jr. said after the loss. “The other team has to match our energy instead of us matching theirs and that’s the biggest thing. Our coaches always tell us that’s what we need to do and we just come out sluggish all the time.”
Murray, who is the team’s leading scorer, went scoreless in the game’s opening half, missing all five of his attempts in the first 20 minutes and finished the game with only five points.
“I just gotta be in the gym even more,” Murray said. “I didn’t compete like I usually do and then when I don’t do it, I feel like the whole team just looks at me because I’m one of the captains on the team, so I just gotta bring that energy more and as a team we have to bring the energy.”
Graduate transfer Rodney Henderson Jr. returned to the court after missing the team’s last game. But the three-point sniper seemed to lose his aim in the game, missing all three of his attempts from behind the arc in his return. Henderson finished the game with two points, his only basket of the game being a putback layup off of a missed three pointer.
The only players who shot 40% or above in the games opening half were juniors Dontrell McQuarter and Ajiri-Ogemuno Johnson, who started at the power forward and center positions.
McQuarter led the team in scoring for the second straight game and was it’s only player to break double-digits on the day, scoring 10 points.
The second half started as a nightmare for the Broncs as NJIT scored the half’s first nine points, giving the Highlanders a 42-23 lead before Rider even made a dent on the scoreboard. Rider was down by as many as 25 points in the second half and with 9:19 left, Baggett turned to some of his unused players.
Among those players was freshman guard Jordan Smalls, who made his collegiate debut in the loss. Despite only playing a little more than nine minutes, Smalls finished second on the team in scoring with nine points.
“I think you saw Jordan Smalls come in as a freshman and the impact he made today because he competed, he just came in and did what we asked him to do,” Baggett said after the game. “He had not been playing because we’ve been trying to work on developing him, getting him better and all he did was compete… He was the only guy who competed today on this roster.”
Rider has one more non-conference game against Coppin State on Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. before it kicks off the new year with a return to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play.