Win on the road highlights Broncs’ improvement

Junior center Kahlil Thomas was key in a 66-60 win at Niagara.
Junior center Kahlil Thomas was key in a 66-60 win at Niagara.

By Carlos Toro

The men’s basketball team split a pair of road games to wrap up a three-game road trip.

Rider (10-15, 6-8 MAAC) defeated conference foe Niagara 66-60 on Feb. 5, but fell to Canisius 67-61 on Feb. 7 in a game broadcast on ESPN3.

Graduate guard Teddy Okereafor said that despite the loss, the team has improved a lot. The Broncs have a 6-3 record in their last nine games.

“I think we’re playing a lot better than we were in the start of the season,” Okereafor said. “I think we dug a hole early and have made some good efforts digging ourselves out of it.”

Against Niagara (6-19, 4-10 MAAC), the Broncs surrendered a 12-2 run when the game was tied at 12 with 9:38 remaining in the game. Rider had some turnover issues, committing four during the scoring run.

The Purple Eagles’ defense was a big reason they came into halftime with a 32-24 lead. Niagara’s bench outscored Rider’s 10-4 in the first half.

Niagara redshirt junior guard Emile Blackman increased the Purple Eagles’ lead to 10 points with a layup with 17:52 remaining in the game.

Rider then started to cut into Niagara’s lead slowly throughout the second half, starting with three straight free throws made by Okereafor to narrow the lead to seven points. Okereafor then made it a four-point game when he caught a defensive rebound and scored on a layup with 12:13 remaining.

Junior center Kahlil Thomas then went on a hot-shooting streak, scoring the Broncs’ next seven points and nine of the 11 points scored in a span of four minutes to give the Broncs a one-point lead with less than eight minutes to go. The Purple Eagles were then winning by one point after sophomore guard Matt Scott made a couple of free throws.

Rider moved ahead for good when junior guard Jimmie Taylor made a pair of free throws with about six minutes remaining. From that point onward, junior forward Xavier Lundy iced the game, scoring eight of the team’s final 12 points.

Thomas and Lundy made big contributions to the team’s win, with each player scoring 20 points in the contest.

Two days later, Canisius’ (11-14, 6-8 MAAC) offense and defense hit its stride after allowing Rider to start the game 14-8.

The Golden Griffins fought back and caught up to Rider almost immediately. Canisius sophomore forward Ryan Cassidy made two three-pointers to tie the game at 14 with 10:42 left in the first half.

Canisius eventually gained the lead almost five minutes later on an 11-0 scoring run and held the lead going into halftime, leading 34-30.

The Broncs momentarily were winning three minutes into the second half, but lost it on the ensuing possession when Canisius junior guard Kiefer Douse made a layup. The Golden Griffins did not surrender the lead for the rest of the game, as they went up by as much as 14 points.

Okereafor thought the team did not play with enough vigor throughout the whole game in order for the Broncs to get the road win.

“We didn’t play with the right intensity or focus for the Canisius game,” Okereafor said. “We have to play desperate and with a sense of urgency for 40 minutes and I don’t think we did a good job of doing that last time out.”

The team will have until Feb. 12 to prepare for its next game against Monmouth (19-5, 11-2 MAAC) at Alumni Gym. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU. The Broncs will then host Niagara on Feb. 14. Okereafor says that the team is excited for the chance to beat Monmouth.

“I’m excited about the Monmouth game,” Okereafor said. “I’m looking forward to seeing our crowd come out and cheer us on and just have the opportunity to get a signature win.”

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