By Brandon Ferris and Brandon Scalea
In arguably its toughest stretch of the 2015-16 season, the men’s basketball team was only able to muster one win in its latest four games.
After dropping the first two games of the year, the Broncs (1-5) traveled to take on the then-No. 3 ranked Maryland. Though Rider was a 22-point underdog, it took over 30 minutes of basketball for the Terrapins to take their first lead. The Broncs led by as much as 16 in the second half. However, they ultimately lost the game to Maryland 65-58.
The Broncs were led by senior guards Teddy Okereafor and Shawn Valentine and junior center Khalil Thomas. Valentine came off the bench and scored 12 points before fouling out in the last minutes of the game. Okereafor scored 11 points while producing seven assists. Thomas led the team in points with 14 against the Terps (6-0).
“Playing against Maryland was amazing,” Okereafor said. “The atmosphere in their gym was crazy; the fans were extremely loud and into the game from start to finish.”
The Broncs opened the game with a 4-0 run and controlled the pace until the last minutes. They led by 2 at the half and then opened up the second half with a 12-0 run to take a 43-29 lead.
Senior guard Zedric Sadler scored four of those points but fouled out four minutes into the second half.
The Terps did not take their first lead of the game until the 5:29 mark. Leading 59-58 in the last seconds of the game, Maryland was able to make its foul shots and control the lead the rest of the way.
Although Maryland missed a free throw in the last 20 seconds, it got an offensive rebound to end the game after it made both free throws.
“It would have been great to win that game not just for us but for the program of Rider,” Okereafor said. “But we gave the right effort and fight that night and it’s something we have to do every night moving forward in order to compete for the MAAC championship which, despite our current record, is something we can most certainly do.”
After nearly pulling off the upset against Maryland, the Broncs traveled to Cancun where they lost a hard-fought game against Cleveland State. It seemed as though Rider struggled with Cleveland State’s press, committing 18 turnovers to the Vikings.
The Broncs were led by junior guard Jimmie Taylor and junior forward Xavier Lundy. Taylor led the Broncs with 12 points, shooting 4 for 10 from the field and Lundy had 10. Taylor also had six rebounds and two steals. Senior guard Khalil Alford had nine points and one block as well.
While Rider had turnover trouble, it was not alone. The Vikings also committed 18 turnovers, but the Broncs could not take advantage of that. Rider was also outrebounded 33-27. Despite those struggles, the Broncs were only down by 1 with a minute left, but once the Vikings started making their free throws, it was tough for the Broncs to respond. Rider only went 14 for 25 from the foul line while Cleveland State shot 23 for 32 from the charity stripe.
Rider next faced Houston Baptist (1-5), who lost to South Dakota State in the first round of the Cancun Challenge. The Huskies went 12-16 last season and won only seven games in the Southland Conference.
After going into this game 0-4, the Broncs soundly defeated Houston Baptist 67-56, notching their first win of the season.
Okereafor led the Broncs to victory with 16 points, three assists and two steals. He was also named to the Cancun Challenge All-Tournament team. Lundy, who is arguably having a breakout season, had 11 points with two steals and four rebounds.
The Broncs took an early lead once the game started and did not look back. With 14 minutes left in the first half, Rider had a 17-9 lead; it led 36-22 at halftime, following a 16-2 run. Only two players did not score a point and 32 points came from the bench.
The Broncs finished up their road trip, by playing the Atlantic 10’s Rhode Island (4-2), a team that lost to Maryland by 21.
Despite this, Rider lost that game 82-57. The Broncs will look to get back on track when they host familiar rival St. Peter’s on Dec. 2 at Alumni Gym.