By Jake Tiger
The Rider men’s basketball team was bested in two major tests over the weekend, having victories in hand before letting them slip away at the very end. The Broncs lost a close contest against Monmouth on Feb. 18, then took another painful loss to Manhattan in overtime on Feb. 20.
Continuous crunch time failures
On Feb. 18, Rider was on the losing end of a photo finish with the Monmouth Hawks, just barely falling short, 60-58.
Despite a sloppy, uncoordinated showing from the Broncs, a win was easily within reach. But like many other games this season, they cracked under the pressure.
“We played scared. We played tentative. We played passive,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “I’m not happy, man. We just continue to give games away down the stretch, not playing nearly as good as I hope.”
Fans on either side likely left with a similar feeling, as both teams stumbled over themselves for much of the game. Rider shot just 40% from the field, with Monmouth following close behind at 34%.
With both teams struggling to score, the deciding factor was Rider’s noticeable lack of rebounding. Monmouth was all over the offensive glass and finished with a 17-9 advantage.
“They dominated us on the glass. That was the biggest thing,” said Baggett. “That’s the story of the game right there. That’s toughness. We lack that.”
In an ugly game, junior forward Mervin James was one of few bright spots for the Broncs. After not scoring in the first half, he came alive in the second half, providing a stabilizing 17-point effort.
“Mervin is a bucket. We really need him,” said senior guard Dwight Murray Jr.
Murray was also solid, finishing with 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 40 minutes.
Even with their lackluster play, the Broncs found themselves only down two on the last possession of the game with one more shot at victory.
As the clock approached zero, Murray pump faked at the top of the arc before launching up a three that sailed short. Murray’s fake was able to draw some contact, but whistles remained silent.
“I felt like I got fouled on the last shot when I pump faked and [the defender] went in towards me,” said Murray. “I could tell that the refs let everybody play, especially Monmouth. They just let them do whatever out there.”
The Broncs will have a shot at redemption when the Hawks come to Alumni Gym on Mar. 5.
‘I won’t forget that play’
After a tough loss on Feb. 18, the Broncs looked to bounce back two days later when they traveled to Manhattan University to take on the Jaspers. However, they took an even tougher loss, losing 84-78 in overtime.
In the game’s final two minutes, the Broncs went on an impressive 8-0 run to tie the game and send it to overtime, but they fell apart during the extra period.
“I don’t know. We got intimidated, and we backed down,” said Baggett. “We’re learning how to win still. We’re trying to put guys in place to win, but we’re not closing the game out with wins.”
Down by a point, the Broncs had a chance to finish the job in regulation, as James was sent to the free throw line with nine seconds remaining. Though, he would go 1-2 at the line, sentencing the team to overtime.
“Gotta make the free throws. Those are things that are hurting us down the stretch that winning teams do,” said Baggett.
Rider let the game get away from them in overtime and the Jaspers came out on top, but not before sprinkling a little extra salt in Rider’s wounds. Despite having a decisive lead, a Manhattan player took the ball down the court and emphatically slammed it into the hoop as time expired.
“And that last play … they wanted to go down and try and dunk it, I won’t forget that play. The coach called for that,” said Baggett.
After the losses, Rider now sits at ninth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) with a 10-16 (6-10) record.
“We’ll get back to practice on Tuesday and coach ‘em up. We know we can play with anybody, so that’s not the question. Can we beat anybody?” asked Baggett.
Just four games remain before the MAAC Tournament and the Broncs will look to quickly get the ball rolling on Feb. 25 against Niagara.
The game will be at 7 p.m. at Alumni Gym and will be streamed on ESPN+.