James scores 50 over two wins at Alumni Gym

By Richard Saile

Rider men’s basketball was able to overcome two close games in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with wins over both Iona and Quinnipiac on Feb. 23 and 25. 

The Broncs extended their win streak to four straight wins after winning back-to-back games at Alumni Gym. The Broncs moved to 1.5 games back from Niagara and Marist for a top-four seed in the MAAC. 

Thriller in ‘The Zoo’

On Feb. 23, Rider hosted Iona to start a stretch of back-to-back home games. The last time the Broncs played the Gaels they lost 94-93.

The Broncs started the game on a 19-6 run in the first six minutes when senior forward Tariq Ingraham made a layup for the first basket of the game. The Gaels’ two buckets in that run were two 3-pointers. 

The Broncs were able to make layups from both Ingraham and senior forward Mervin James and hit 3-pointers from senior guard Allen Powell. 

The Broncs’ bench and crowd got into the game after a pair of shots from senior guard Corey McKeithan, including one 3-pointer from the top of the key. 

The Gaels were able to get their offense going as they hit some layups and 3-pointers to stay within nine before halftime. The Broncs ended the first half strong as James hit a 3-pointer from the left corner and graduate student guard T.J. Weeks Jr. made three free throws to send the Broncs to the locker room up 41-29 at halftime.

Entering the second half it was a different story as the Gaels started with a 17-2 run that gave the Gaels their first lead of the game. 

The Broncs responded with a 12-0 run of their own that included two 3-pointers from Powell that helped the crowd and bench erupt as Rider regained the lead. The Broncs struggled to defend Iona from beyond the arc as the Gaels found an answer to keep it close. 

The Broncs were able to find their answer by attacking the paint and getting to the free throw line thanks to James and Ingraham. 

Freshman guard Ruben Rodriguez was able to make three key free throws and provide eight points off the bench that helped the Broncs seal the win 78-75 and extend their winning streak to three games. 

According to Head Coach Kevin Baggett, the team’s dynamic for the season finally started to fall into place.

“Everybody fits now, where we were trying to fit the puzzle and it wasn’t fitting … guys needed to just find their roles and be comfortable in those roles,” said Baggett. “Now everybody understands where they are and what it is that we’re asking each and every one of them to do. Now they’re able to play out of it without thinking, worrying about what it is that they need to do.”

Rolling over Quinnipiac

On Feb. 25, the Broncs hosted the top-seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats at Alumni Gym and looked to extend their winning streak to four games. They were able to do so with a 30-point effort from James. 

The Bobcats started out the game on a 14-5 run attacking the paint and hitting two 3-pointers to stress the Broncs’ defense. Rider worked its way back into the game, as James and Ingraham each made a mid-range jumper and free throws to shrink the Bobcats’ lead. 

The Broncs went on a 10-2 run before heading to the locker room. They attacked the Bobcats’ defense in the paint and drew contact that got them to the free throw line. The crowd celebrated buckets made by McKeithan, Ingraham and Powell as the Broncs took a 38-37 lead at halftime. 

In the second half, both teams exchanged buckets in the early minutes. The Bobcats got three free throws and a 3-pointer to increase their lead to six with 14:25 left in the game. 

The Broncs cut the deficit thanks to Weeks and junior forward JT Langston Jr. to help earn a seven-point lead with just over 10 minutes left in the game. The Bobcats wouldn’t go away as they made two key jumpers and a pair of free throws to cut the Broncs’ lead down to three with just over seven minutes left. 

In the final five minutes, Rider went on an 18-9 run and closed out the Bobcats to win 88-78 and earn its fourth straight victory. 

The game had a matchup of the two highest scorers in the MAAC and the top two candidates for MAAC player of the year between Quinnipiac’s Matt Balanc and Rider’s James. 

James finished with 30 points: a team-high, while Balanc finished with 11 points. 

James lead the MAAC in scoring at 19 points per game, just ahead of Balanc’s 18.4 scoring average. 

“I mean you could say that, but I just felt I was playing basketball,” James said when asked if the game was a statement for player of the year.  

The Broncs snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Bobcats and are just behind both Niagara and Marist for a top-four seed in the MAAC, with their next game at Niagara on Mar. 1. 

The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and tipoff is at 7 p.m. 

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