By Carlos Toro
The men’s basketball team spent Thanksgiving week in Disney, but it certainly was not a joyous occasion as it lost all four of its games in the Orlando Classic.
The Broncs (2-5) lost to Kansas, Michigan State, Georgia Tech and Santa Clara. Senior center Matt Lopez thinks that despite losing all four games, it served as a reminder of what they needed to do to compete against big name teams.
“They’re great teams and we need to be students of the game, meaning we need to learn,” Lopez said. “We are not where we want to be, but we’re working towards being a complete team come conference play.”
The team started their four game road trip after winning their home opener against Lehigh on Nov. 21. They traveled to Lawrence, Kan., to battle No. 11 Kansas (5-1), in a non-bracketed game of the Orlando Classic.
The Jayhawks started the game on a 10-2 run, with four points by junior forward Perry Ellis, and led 27-8 after 11 minutes of play on 10 points from freshman forward Cliff Alexander. Kansas had a big offensive first half, shooting over 66 percent from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line.
Sophomore forward Xavier Lundy led the Broncs with 15 points in the 87-60 defeat.
The first game in Disney pitted Rider against then-No. 20 Michigan State (5-2) on Nov. 27 with only a limited amount of time to prepare for an opponent that is arguably just as tough as Kansas.
The game opened with a couple of three pointers and a layup from Michigan State to lead 8-0. The Broncs closed the gap to make it 10-6 in favor of the Spartans, but Rider’s offensive woes sealed the game for Michigan State.
Rider did not score a single point for nearly seven minutes during the first half, but, playing in a zone defense, managed to limit its opponent’s scoring during its offensive drought, getting Michigan State to score on only 44 percent of its field goals in the first half.
With a 21-point lead entering the second half, Michigan State didn’t let its lead slip for a second. The closest Rider got to the Spartans was 21 points, thanks to a couple of free throws made by Lopez. Afterwards, Michigan State kept pressuring Rider until the Spartans eventually won 77-45. It was the Broncs’ lowest scoring game in two seasons.
The Broncs continued the tournament against Georgia Tech (5-1).
Rider stood toe-to-toe against a bigger and better rebounding team from a stronger conference. Georgia Tech led for almost the entirety of the first half but Rider managed to pull even and went into halftime tied at 30.
Rider’s calling card up to this point was the three-point shot, but against Georgia Tech, the Broncs only made 3 three-pointers out of 19 attempts in the 61-54 loss. Head Coach Kevin Baggett says that they should be able to make those shots.
“It was an offensive struggle the entire tournament,” said Baggett. “If we had made some easy baskets, get a little more confidence, certainly some of the results and outcomes could have been different, especially against Georgia Tech.”
The final game of the tournament they faced Santa Clara (3-4), but the lack of offense, especially from two of their best players, killed the Broncs’ chances to win.
Rider’s two leading scorers of the season were junior guards Teddy Okereafor and Zedric Sadler, who shot a combined 0 for 15 from the field, including eight missed three-pointers. The two players came into the game combining for 21.5 points per game.
The Broncs were leading for most of the first half until the last few minutes. Rider was up 22-15, but Santa Clara used a 9-0 scoring run to grab the lead with about a minute and 30 seconds left and ended the half with a 26-24 lead.
Coming out of the locker room, Santa Clara went on another scoring run, this time a 15-6 run, and Santa Clara’s lead didn’t escape. Rider had a chance to take back the lead with more than seven minutes left in the game when sophomore guard Jimmie Taylor made two three-pointers, cutting the opposing team’s lead to 49-48.
That was as close as the Broncs would get, as Santa Clara got the better of them and won the game 68-60. It was another bad night for Rider’s three-point shooters as they went 0-11 from beyond the arc in the first half and 6-24 for the game.
Rider will have a chance to end its current skid when it hosts Central Connecticut State (0-6) on Dec. 3. Baggett doesn’t believe that this game is more of a must-win than any other game.
“Every game is a must-win,” Baggett said. “We’re 2-5 right now. We need to win every game, but especially the home games. If we’re going to be a good team, we need to win these games.”