Rider 99, Quinnipiac 82: Broncs Riding High Heading To Albany

Rider fell just shy of its third 100-point performance of the season, but the Broncs’ 99 tally Sunday afternoon was more than enough to dispatch Quinnipiac and skate into the MAAC tournament on a hot streak.

Kevin Baggett is pleased with his team’s recent offensive surge, but would love more defense to go with it

Quinnipiac held a 51-45 lead at halftime thanks to 18 from Mikey Dixon and a quartet of 3-pointers from Andrew Robinson, but the Broncs used a second-half surge to turn the slugfest into a blowout. After the Bobcats opened up an eight point lead early in the second stanza, Rider put together a 19-3 run over a six minute stretch to establish their own eight point advantage.

The Broncs held a comfortable double-digit lead down the stretch and pushed it to as much as 18 in the final minute as they captured their third consecutive victory with the 99-82 win. For Quinnipiac, it was the Bobcats’ sixth loss in a row as they end the season 7-13 in league play.

Kahlil Thomas led the Broncs with 21 points, while Norville Carey matched a career high with 20. Jimmie Taylor followed suit with 19 points to go along with seven rebounds.

Quinnipiac was once again paced by Dixon, whose 28 points put him back ahead of pace to break the school’s all-divisions freshman of 16.7 ppg. Four others reached double figures including Robinson with 12, Abdulai Bundu with 11, and Chaise Daniels and Phil Winston with 10 apiece.

Here are three thoughts from Sunday afternoon:

Offensive Explosion – The Broncs are undoubtedly playing their best offensive basketball at the right time of the year. Beginning with their 112-107 win over the Bobcats two weeks ago in Lawrenceville, Rider has posted 90 or more points in four of six contests to close the regular season.

“I think guys are understanding their roles and playing together,” head coach Kevin Baggett said of his team hitting its stride. “At the end of the day it’s a resilient team. We can score, but if we can defend, we’ll give ourselves a chance in the tournament.”

Over their final three games of the season, the Broncs have averaged an astounding 98.3 ppg and shot over 54% from the field in each contest. That outburst has also coincided with the return of point guard Stevie Jordan from a four game suspension. The freshman sensation posted his second double-double on 16 points and a career-high 13 assists, highlighted by an alley-oop feed to Carey midway through the second half.

Tom Moore has had to shuffle his team’s lineup since the loss of Donovan Smith

“It’s important to have him,” Baggett said of Jordan. “When we didn’t have him, we went 1-3. I thought Kealen Ives did a really good job, but Stevie is the guy that gets us going and our guys feed off him. With Kealen now playing well with Stevie, now we’re a two-headed monster at the guard position.”

Identity Crisis – Quinnipiac brought in six new players this season, and it took some time for the group to click. As newcomers like Dixon, Peter Kiss, and Reggie Oliver established primary roles on the team, a balanced identity seemed to take shape. But the loss of senior Donovan Smith to a season-ending foot fracture in the final game of January has since changed the team’s complexion.

“When we were at our best in the middle of January…with Chaise and Donovan at the rim, we looked like a big time team in this league,” head coach Tom Moore said. “We’ve looked smaller and we haven’t compensated for losing [Donovan] on the defensive end with increased energy, focus, and toughness.”

At the time of Smith’s injury, he averaged 7.0 ppg, 5.4 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks per game. But more importantly, the Chicago native’s presence provided ample counterweight to Chaise Daniels in the paint. In Smith’s absence, Moore has often rolled out four-guard lineups in contrast to the familiar setup of three guards and two forwards, leaving the team’s current identity in flux.

“[We have] more of an identity than we did in November, not as much of an identity as I’d like,” Moore added. “I’d just like us to be more complete.”

In that four-guard setup, Quinnipiac’s defense has struggled. Although they were never a lockdown defensive team this season, the Bobcats have seen their average points allowed per game rise from 81.6 ppg through ten January contests to 88.7 ppg over eight February games since Smith’s injury.

The Broncs are averaging 98.3 ppg over their last three contests since freshman Stevie Jordan returned to the starting lineup

Roller Coaster Ride – Rider has been through perhaps more ups and downs than any team in the league this season. The Broncs owned the top spot in the MAAC in early January as they began league play 4-1, but a Friday the 13th visit to Manhattan saddled the team with a heap of bad luck, as they fell into a 3-9 tailspin until their recent three-game winning streak.

“It’s been a roller coaster season, yet the one thing we’ve never wavered on is the fact that we know this team can beat anybody,” Baggett said of his squad. “We were playing well early in the year, everybody thought we were a good team. We went through some problems throughout the year. Some highs and lows, but throughout the year we never thought that we weren’t a good team.”

The Broncs are just one of two MAAC teams to hand top-seeded Monmouth a loss, and the lone group this season to accomplish that feat on the Hawks’ home court. They have also earned notable road wins over Iona and Canisius.

With four seniors in the starting lineup, a renewed sense to play as well as possible in the time they have left has overcome the Broncs, and it is that mentality which may fuel a March run.

“There’s a sense of urgency now that the season is at the end now, and we know that it’s a one-game tournament for all of us,” Baggett added. “Our seniors are the ones saying ‘Hey, we don’t want it to end.’ It’s their last games and those guys, they’re enjoying it. This is a together group at the end of the day, regardless of the highs and lows that we went through all year long.”

Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.