By Carolo Pascale and Jake Tiger
IT was bound to happen at some point.
After a fantastic stretch of eight-straight wins, the Broncs’ winning streak was shockingly broken by the last place Canisius Golden Griffins on Feb. 17, falling 81-78, which was followed by a double-overtime heartstopper on Feb. 19 against Quinnipiac, where Rider was eventually edged out by the Bobcats 90-88.
‘It was uneasy all week’
As expected, the Broncs’ Zoo was jam-packed and filled with excitement heading into Rider’s game against Canisius. The Broncs were on fire and looking for their ninth straight win, and with the last-place Golden Griffins coming to town, they were poised to make it so.
However, for the second week in a row, Canisius shocked the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) by taking down another top-five team, and slamming the door shut on Rider’s precious winning streak.
“It was uneasy all week. Their record doesn’t indicate how good that team is and how well coached they are, how hard they play, how smart they are,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “Everything that we didn’t do today, they did.”
Baggett hit the nail on the head with his description of uneasiness, as something felt off despite the Broncs having an overall good first half. The superb defense that the Broncs had shown over the winning streak had become a little discombobulated.
Rider garnered a lead as large as 13 points twice in the half, but Canisius stuck around and was able to keep the deficit under 10 as the Broncs left the first half leading 49-40. Even though they were only up by nine, the Broncs shot with video game-like accuracy, making an absurd 80% of their attempts from the field and 50% from the three.
“[We] thought it was gonna be easy because we could score, but we weren’t stopping them. We gave up 40 points at halftime,” said Baggett. “That’s not the team that’s been defending in this eight-game winning streak.”
The second half proved to be the blow to the winning streak, as the Broncs came out flat while Canisius dominated, taking the lead off the back of a deafening 19-8 run.
The Griffins took the lead with 12:17 left to go, and never gave it up. Rider thought it had tied the game off a 3-pointer from senior guard Allen Powell with three seconds left, but a controversial foul on Canisius was called just as Powell took the shot. The shot didn’t count because the foul was called before it, and Rider lost the streak.
“I definitely passed it. It was out of my hands before they fouled me,” said senior guard Dwight Murray Jr., who got the ball to Powell just as the foul was called.
Murray finished with a game-high 26 points, while three other Broncs chipped in double-digit points in the loss.
‘Everybody was frustrated’
The law of averages has reared its ugly head to strike down the once-streaking Broncs with vengeful fury.
After an eight-game win streak fizzled out against Canisius, Rider was given another reality check in the form of a 90-88, double overtime defeat courtesy of both Quinnipiac, and depending on who you ask, the referees.
“I’m not sure if half of them were fouls,” said Baggett. “I don’t know until I go back and look at it. I’m not sure. I know the last one was not a foul. You can’t throw the ball backwards when your back is turned and get a foul. It’s not possible.”
The 50-minute debacle featured a total of 45 personal fouls and 58 free throws, but the Bobcats were by far the main beneficiaries of the stop-and-go officiating with 41 combined free throws.
“[The fouls were] a big factor, huge,” said Baggett. “We had no answers. And then the [free throws] are [41-17]. You tell me.”
At one point, Rider accrued a 16-point lead with just over 12 minutes remaining, thanks to a strong 13-3 push to start the second half.
Murray led the late charge en route to a 19-point, 12-rebound performance for his first double-double of the season.
But fouls began to pile up.
Quinnipiac was awarded 31 free throws after the first half, slowly inching its way back point by point.
The Bobcats eventually erased Rider’s advantage, and the Broncs could only watch as an 88-88 tie was broken with an emblematic free throw.
The double-overtime loss was Rider’s longest game since Dec. 10, 2002, when it lost 85-82 to Harvard in triple overtime.
“Everybody was frustrated,” said Baggett. “I didn’t say anything to our team right now. It’s not the time to say anything.”
The dizzied Broncs now turn their attention to Siena, as they face off in what may be their biggest game of the season. With both teams at 11-5 in conference play, the winner of the Feb. 25 feud will move into sole possession of second place in the MAAC, only behind 13-3 Iona.
The pivotal matchup tips off at 7 p.m. in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and will be broadcasted nationally on ESPNU.