By Jacob Tiger
After traveling thousands of miles across the U.S., and even to another country, the Rider men’s basketball team ended a torturous eight-game gauntlet with contests against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) rivals, Iona and Marist.
Against Iona on Dec. 3, Rider was dominated in every metric, losing 80-54. When the Broncs returned home on Dec. 5 to take on Marist, they lost 79-67 and fell to 3-8 on the season.
“We’ve been on the road [for] three weeks. [It’s] wearin’ everybody out,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said of the Broncs struggles. “That’s all on me. That’s on me.”
‘Punched in the mouth’
In the finale of their seven-game road trip, Rider opened conference play against a fearsome Iona squad led by Head Coach Rick Pitino.
It was clear that defeating the Gaels would be a tall task for the Broncs, but the gap between Rider and Iona, along with the fatigue of a 13-day road trip, proved to be too much.
Iona came away with an 80-54 victory as they effortlessly dismantled the exhausted Broncs.
“I don’t remember having a team get punched in the mouth from start to finish the way we did today,” said Baggett, “We didn’t fight back.”
The Broncs put themselves in a hole early, going down 32-12 after just 10 minutes of play, and by halftime, the score was 45-26 in Iona’s favor.
“We gotta stop getting off to slow starts like that. When teams get big leads, it’s hard to come back,” said junior guard Allen Powell.
With a massive lead, the Gaels were able to coast through the second half to secure the victory, as the Broncs repeatedly tried and failed to get something going.
“We’re tired. We’re struggling right now. They kicked our behind at the end of the day. There was nothing that we did well,” said Baggett.
While Iona was certainly the better team, the loss was more a result of Rider’s inability to make shots than anything else. The Gaels shot a mediocre 41.9% from the field, but the Broncs could only muster 30.4% including a tragic 5.6% (1-18) from 3-point line.
“Today we just had a slump, and we gon’ get through it. Today just wasn’t our day,” said Powell.
‘We’re not this bad’
Two days after its loss to Iona, Rider finally returned to “The Zoo” only to see yet another challenger, the Marist Red Foxes.
Compared to Iona, defeating Marist was a much more realistic task for the Broncs, as they only possessed a 2-4 record before the game. However, the Broncs were merely running on fumes and couldn’t put their best foot forward, ultimately falling 79-67 even with a 12-6 run to end the game.
“We’re not playing well right now,” said Baggett. “We just gotta do a better job playing as a team. We’re playing as individuals right now.”
Again, Rider’s play was sloppy, uncoordinated and ineffective to start the game, resulting in a 37-24 deficit at halftime.
“Definitely [need to] pick up the energy, stop being slouches in the beginning and just letting people charge it down our throats,” senior forward Dimencio Vaughn said.
Vaughn was one individual who managed to show up for the Broncs, putting together a double-double by snatching 10 rebounds and scoring a game-high 28 points while making 5-of-7 3-point shots.
Aside from Vaughn, no one else was able to show up in an impactful way. The rest of the starting lineup combined for just 21 points, and excluding Vaughn, the Broncs only shot 20% (2-10) ffrom the 3-point line.
“We wanna win. We wanna make this place proud. Right now, We’re struggling to make ourselves proud,” said Baggett.
Baggett was surprisingly unconcerned after the game, making it clear that he still has faith in his team.
“I’m not worried about anybody. We’ll be fine. I know what kind of talent we have … on this team,” said Baggett. “We’re not this bad. Trust me when I tell ya.”
The Broncs will finally get some much-needed rest before heading to Rutgers on Dec. 18.