LAWRENCEVILLE– Heading into Friday Night, the top five teams in the MAAC were as tight as ever with fifth place Canisius (10-7 in the MAAC) only one game back of first place Iona (11-7).
Right in the middle of the congestion was Rider, in third place at 10-6. There was a chance for the Broncs to find themselves atop the conference by the end of the night if they defeated the first place Gaels.
The result was the exact opposite of what the Broncs were hoping for. Instead of a win for the Broncs it was a convincing win for Iona as they took down Rider by a final score of 86-79.
“Struggled to play well,” Rider head coach Kevin Baggett said. “Give those guys credit they came in and punched us in the mouth and we weren’t ready for it, when we got off our heels and started to get back at them, we tried to make it a game but it’s tough when you get down that much.”
There was a point in the second half where Rider trimmed the Iona lead to as little as six points after the Gaels were leading by as much as 25 points in the second frame.
But it seemed like for every big, momentum-shifting basket scored by Rider, Iona quieted the crowd with a basket of their own every single time.
“We had defensive breakdowns,” Baggett said. “They got some calls here and there, there was a three that was called that was on a foul that hurt, we just had too many breakdowns, we didn’t guard in front of the ball very well tonight at all.”
“We just struggled to put the ball in the basket and they came down and they were hitting on all cylinders,” Rider senior guard Anthony Durham said. “We didn’t stick to the defensive gameplan which was don’t over help and it wasn’t like they were killing us inside, they would come down every possession and shoot the three, we just had to stick to the gameplan and we weren’t hitting anything and they were taking advantage of it.”
On senior night, Durham alongside senior forward Karmoko Cisse were honored prior to the game, but a win in their final home games inside Alumni Gym would’ve been special. But it’s not the end of the road for Rider, they still have one game remaining, on the road at Marist, as well as the MAAC tournament which starts on March 7.
“Me personally it was my last game here I want to go out on top,” Durham said. “I just walked in the locker room and told them we’re going to see them in the tournament so that should be everybody’s main focus, take care of business sunday and then move on to the tournament, I’ll be fine with losing this game if it meant I could win a championship, that’s the main thing on everybody’s mind right now.”
Forward Fredrick Scott tallied the most points for the Broncs with 17 to go along with 12 rebounds and 4 assists. Guard Stevie Jordan notched his first double-double of the year, 16 points and 10 assists and was four rebounds shy of a triple-double.
Selected as the preseason favorite, the Broncs are now eliminated from winning the regular season MAAC title, but if they can just win the MAAC tournament, everything would be gravy. And in Durham’s mind, they have the a fair shot at winning the whole thing.
“In my personal opinion, I think we have the most talented team in the MAAC,” Durham said. “We got to go through Iona, they’re the top dog, that’s who we got to go through to get the chip.”