Same story different year; Broncs lose in quarterfinals

By Shaun Chornobroff

Atlantic City, N.J. – It’s like the same movie, but on a different day for the Rider men’s basketball team. The first time the Broncs saw this screening was on Feb. 26, when they lost to the Saint Peter’s Peacocks.

The team played a similar script on March 11, dropping a game to the Peacocks they once had control of 75-60 knocking them out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament in the quarterfinals and bringing their season to an unceremonious end.

“I thought our guys did a good job in the first half, I thought the second half they got physical with us and we didn’t match that offensively and defensively and then we couldn’t get stops when we needed to get stops,” Head Coach Kevin

Baggett said. “We missed a ton of layups and free throws and when you get down you have to make those.”

The loss maintained Baggett’s winless record in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament and revived an annual question from the media.

“I don’t care about that, that’s what y’all care about,” The two-time MAAC Coach of the Year said in his postgame press conference when asked about his 0-8 record in quarterfinal games. “We just needed to get stops… You guys can keep bringing that up forever or all you want, but at the end of the day we have to get better, we have to get stronger, we have to get tougher… It ain’t have anything to do with the MAAC Tournament, this is something that has hurt us all year long… It’s not the MAAC Tournament, it’s consistency across the board.”

Rider was clicking early on, forcing a plethora of turnovers in the opening minutes and the offense was scoring with ease, helping the Broncs open up a 30-20 lead with 7:16 remaining in the first half. But Rider failed to extend its double-digit lead and was lucky to go into the halftime break with a 36-33 lead.

Much like the late February matchup, the Peacocks continued their momentum into the second half starting the half on a 19-6 run, drowning the Broncs with turnovers on one end and efficient offense on the other.

The Broncs were unable to buy a break of any kind in the last 20 minutes of play and Baggett saw his team’s first-half double-digit lead morph into a 52-42 deficit with 11:42 remaining in the game.

“We didn’t play very smart in the second half when we got down, we lost our composure,” the veteran coach explained. “We just started doing things that have showed up all year long, that didn’t show up [March 8] for the most part.”

The team had no response to Saint Peter’s defense and interior presence and the Rider deficit peaked at 20 points.

The Broncs were held to 19 second half points, shooting a paltry 36.8% from the field and committing seven turnovers.

Dwight Murray Jr. continued to impress in the first half of the game, leading the Broncs with nine points and five assists, but the junior guard only registered six points and failed to record a single assist in the second half.

It was an unfortunate end to Murray’s season. The guard was considered by many to be a snub from an All-MAAC first team selection, instead forcing him to settle for a second team honor. The junior had a dazzling performanc in the opening round victory against Canisius, but the Murray magic ran out in the last 20 minutes of the Broncs season.

“We didn’t go as hard as Saint Peter’s did,” the second team All-MAAC selection said. “We didn’t bring out the effort… we were lacking motivation, it’s just the little things.”

Rider was dominated by a familiar foe in this game: All-MAAC first-team selection KC Ndefo. The junior showed his prowess on the inside, scoring 18 points on 70% shooting. Ndefo has often been touted as a unique athlete and showed it in the game, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing four assists in the victory.

“He wanted it more tonight,” Baggett bluntly said of the forward’s performance.

The loss ended a season filled with defeat and disappointment, but the adversity did help forge a team that started the season with a dozen foreign faces into a unified group of brothers who bonded over being doubted by those outside the team.

“I loved it, I love my teammates, it’s a great group of guys,” Murray said of his first season in Lawrenceville. “It was our first time playing together and we just started learning how to play with each other and we just started learning how to lay with each other, so it’s going to be scary next year… Coach [Baggett] brought me here and said ‘if I do things for him he’ll do things for me’ and he kept his word on that. I just love it here, I just love it here, I’m staying for sure.”

Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson, a junior center who was one of the few returning members from the previous season agrees that the Broncs can become a force to be reckoned with.

“Come next year I trust my coach, he’s not doing this again,” Ogemuno-Johnson said. “We’re not doing it again as teammates, we talked about it at the end of the game that we’re coming back next year and we’re not putting ourselves in the same predicament as we did this year. As far as talent goes, we do have the talent to come back next year and actually make some noise.”

With the worst statistical season in his tenure behind him, Baggett and the rest of the Rider Broncs will look to come into the 2021-22 season with a chip on their shoulder and return to the top half of the MAAC.

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