By Benjamin Shinault and Dain Smith
The Broncs did not take it easy on baskets this past weekend as they scored 184 points over the last two games against Siena and Iona. The Broncs were only able to take one of two high-scoring affairs as they steamrolled Siena 91-50 but fell short of a historic comeback as they were bested by the Gaels 94-93.
Saints marched out of town
It was Greek Night on Feb. 2 when the Broncs welcomed Siena, who was in the midst of a six-game skid.
From the moment the whistle was blown, the atmosphere in the Broncs’ Zoo was electric. Something as minute as a layup off the glass would cause a booming cheer coming from the packed student section.
“I want to give it up to our crowd, it was awesome,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said at the postgame presser. “It was good to have our fans back in the house. They were spectacular and I think they helped us get off to a great start.”
What also helped the Broncs get off to a great start was graduate student guard T.J. Weeks, who splashed home two 3-pointers right at the beginning of play, one of them resulting in a 4-point play. Weeks finished with nine points and six rebounds.
The reasons for the Broncs’ explosive home win kept stacking up as the Broncs’ shooting percentages in the first half were elite. The Broncs shot 55.6% from the field and sank 8-of-9 from three.
Senior guard Corey McKeithan spoke highly on the fan presence in the Broncs’ Zoo: “We were more confident in shooting it. The crowd was all into it, so once T.J. hit that first one, that’s when we were like, ‘Yeah, we’re good now, we’re going to hit more.’”
When it came to ball security, Rider only committed two turnovers through the first half and its defense was stout – a pleasure in the eyes of Baggett.
“We can score the ball, we know that, but can we get stops when it matters the most?” said Baggett. “These guys sitting next to me, they know they can score and they are also two of our better defenders.”
Rider sure did score as the 50 points it put up in the first half was the most scored in the first half against a Division I team this season.
With the Broncs stringing some wins together, both the players and coaches sensed a turn of the tide on the floor and in the locker room.
Senior forward Mervin James spoke out about how the team is feeling moving forward, “Everything’s good right now, we’re in a good grace, good space so we’re just going to keep taking it game by game.”
Much to Baggett’s relief, Rider got its revenge against the Saints after they slipped right through the Broncs’ fingers on Dec. 1, 67-65.
“We just had a bad taste in our mouth because we gave them opportunities to beat us at Siena,” Baggett said. “The whole thing this week was to dominate the matchups.”
The Broncs did that and more to secure the big Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference victory at home.
Almost had them
Fresh off their dominant outing against Siena, the Broncs took the bus to New Rochelle, New York, to face off against the Gaels, who took down the Broncs 94-93.
It was a back-to-back first half with the score knotted up at 38. Coming out of halftime, the Broncs looked flush as they allowed the Gaels to rattle off 15 of the first 17 points scored in the second half.
“When you turn the ball over inbounding and allow that to speed you up … then take quick shots, you play into their hands,” Baggett said after the tough loss.
Despite the big deficit in the second half, the Broncs were able to climb all the way back from a 24 down, but they couldn’t quite snag the lead.
Baggett said, “We just had to go back and regather our composure and play the way we’ve been playing of late, that’s why we were able to make a run.”
In spite of the loss, some Broncs had some standout performances such as freshman guard DJ Dudley, who was the leading scorer with a career-high 28 points.
Senior forward Tariq Ingraham reeled in a career-high 18 rebounds and also scored 18 points.
The Broncs, who are now slotted in at eighth in the MAAC standings, will hit the floor once again on Feb. 8 when they travel to Fairfield, Connecticut to face off against the Stags. Tipoff will be at 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.