Jimmie Taylor's 18 points led all scorers as Rider advanced past Quinnipiac in opening round of MAAC Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
ALBANY, NY -- Kevin Baggett summarized the "survive and advance" mantra best, saying "it's not time for us to go home yet."
Behind 18 points from Jimmie Taylor and a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double from Kahlil Thomas, Baggett was provided more than enough reasons for that postgame quote after eighth-seeded Rider (13-19) opened its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament run with a 60-57 win over No. 9 seed Quinnipiac, (9-21) setting up a meeting with regular season champion Monmouth in the quarterfinals on Friday.
"I'm happy we lived to see another day," Baggett said, visibly relieved as the Broncs held off a determined Quinnipiac team. "At this time of year, a win is a win, and you've got to find a way to stay in it, and I thought we did that. Our guys stayed together."
The Broncs overcame a 13-for-23 performance at the free throw line with several clutch shots by Taylor, who finished 6-of-9 from the floor. The junior guard connected on five of the six three-pointers he attempted, providing a jolt to an offense that had been plagued by Thomas' early foul trouble and Teddy Okereafor being limited to just five points.
"It's always big for Jimmie to give us that boost and make shots that we know he's capable of making," said Baggett. "It's good to see him making shots up here, because we're going to need him to make some shots tomorrow."
Rider fought off the defensive-minded Bobcats long enough through a first half that closely resembled a rock fight before both sides traded three-pointers toward the end of the period, with Quinnipiac eventually bringing a 32-30 lead into the locker room. But the Broncs recovered enough to go up by as many as 10 on two separate occasions before Quinnipiac used a combination of timely stops and missed Rider free throws to creep closer.
A stretch in the final two minutes, where Okereafor missed four of five attempts at the charity stripe, got Quinnipiac within one point, at 58-57. However, the Englishman redeemed himself by stealing a Bobcat inbounds pass immediately after turning it over on the previous possession. Sprinting down the lane for a breakaway layup, he was ultimately fouled by Donovan Smith to return to the line, this time sinking both shots.
"It was two shots or 'don't come back,'" said Okereafor of his free throws. "If I don't make those two, I may not play anymore. I don't want it to end."
Quinnipiac still had one final chance to tie at the buzzer, but sophomore guard Dimitri Floras was double-teamed at the top of the key and could not get a shot off before the horn, allowing Rider to escape.
"It was unfortunate that we didn't get a shot out of that," said Tom Moore of the Bobcats' final possession, which involved using either Floras or Giovanni McLean off a screen for Andrew Robinson. "I put that on me. End game execution is something I need to be better at as a coach so that our guys can be better at it."
With the win, Rider moves on to face Monmouth, a team it had on the ropes in its own gym on February 12, leading by 14 with less than four minutes to play before Justin Robinson's three in the final seconds capped off a 17-2 run to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.
"I just don't want to play the way we played last Friday," Baggett said of seeing the regular season champion Hawks for a third time, referencing the February 26 matchup in which Monmouth clinched the No. 1 seed at Rider's expense. "I want to go out there and play the way our team is capable of playing, which we did the first time at Rider. This is win or go home, and I know they'd like to get that taste out of their mouths in terms of the way we played last Friday. Anything can happen."