By Shaun Chornobroff
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — It’s like the same movie, but on a different day for the Rider men’s basketball team. The first time the Broncs saw this screening was on Feb. 26 when they lost to the Saint Peter’s Peacocks.
The team played a similar script on March 11, dropping a game to the Peacocks they once had control of 75-60 knocking them out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament in the quarterfinals and bringing their season to an unceremonious end.
“I thought our guys did a good job in the first half, I thought the second half they got physical with us and we didn’t match that offensively and defensively and then we couldn’t get stops when we needed to get stops,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said. “We missed a ton of layups and free throws and when you get down you have to make those.”
The loss maintained Baggett’s winless record in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament and revived an annual question from the media.
“I don’t care about that, that’s what y’all care about,” Baggett said to reporters in his postgame press conference. “We just needed to get stops… You guys can keep bringing that up forever or all you want, but at the end of the day we have to get better, we have to get stronger, we have to get tougher… It ain’t have anything to do with the MAAC Tournament, this is something that has hurt us all year long… It’s not the MAAC Tournament, it’s consistency across the board.”
Rider was clicking early on, forcing a plethora of turnovers in the opening minutes and the offense was scoring with ease, helping the Broncs open up a 30-20 lead with 7:16 remaining in the first half. But Rider failed to extend its double-digit lead and was lucky to go into the halftime break with a 36-33 lead.
Much like the late February matchup, the Peacocks continued their momentum into the second half starting the half on a 19-6 run, drowning the Broncs with turnovers on one end and efficient offense on the other.
The Broncs were unable to buy a break of any kind in the last 20 minutes of play and Baggett saw his team’s first-half double-digit lead morph into a 52-42 deficit with 11:42 remaining in the game.
“We didn’t play very smart in the second half when we got down, we lost our composure,” the veteran coach explained. “We just started doing things that have showed up all year long, that didn’t show up [March 8] for the most part.”
The team had no response to Saint Peter’s defense and interior presence and the Rider deficit peaked at 20 points.
The Broncs were held to 19 second half points, shooting a paltry 36.8% from the field and committing seven turnovers.
Dwight Murray Jr. continued to wow in the first half of the game, leading the Broncs with 9 points and five assists, but the junior guard only registered six points and failed to record a single-assist in the second half.
“We didn’t go as hard as Saint Peter’s did,” the second team All-MAAC selection said. “We didn’t bring out the effort… we were lacking motivation, it’s just the little things.”
Rider was dominated by a familiar foe in this game: All-MAAC first-team selection KC Ndefo. The junior showed his prowess on the inside, scoring 18 points on 70% shooting. Ndefo has often been touted as a unique athlete and showed it in the game, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing four assists in the victory.
“He wanted it more tonight,” Baggett bluntly said of the forward’s performance.
With the worst statistical season in his tenure behind him, Baggett and the rest of the Rider Broncs will look to make a return to the top-half of the MAAC in the 2021-22 season.