By Brandon Scalea (@brandonscalea)
LAWRENCEVILLE, NJ - A Rider team that prides itself in defending at the three-point line could not do so on Friday night, and the surging Iona Gaels ran them out of Alumni Gymnasium in front of an ESPNU audience.
Sam Cassell, Jr. led Iona with 29 points and six rebounds, shooting 10-for-16 from the field. Jordan Washington also could not be stopped, as he shot 10-for-14 for 24 points. Iona’s Jon Severe and E.J Crawford each finished in double figures as well in a 95-76 thrashing of the Broncs, prompting a frustrated Kevin Baggett to not have much to say in the postgame press conference.
“This was not a good performance by us today,” the Rider coach said. “We struggled in every facet of the game, especially on the defensive end. We just didn’t do much right.”
The Broncs jumped out to an early 4-1 lead on back-to-back layups, and the sellout crowd got into it early. The cheers were short-lived, however, as this was the only time Rider led in the contest. The Gaels made 10 of their first 15 shots and five of their first seven three-pointers to build a 39-22 first-half lead. Rider battled to get the game back within reach by halftime, but Iona headed to the locker room with a comfortable 45-31 edge.
The highlight of Rider’s game came in the first half, when senior Kahlil Thomas fought for a rebound and dropped in a putback for his 1,000th career point. He is the 36th Rider player to reach that feat. Thomas finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
In the second half, Iona (17-8, 9-4 MAAC) quickly got its lead back to 17, but the Broncs scored the next six, featuring a nice transition three by Anthony Durham. The deficit was cut to 11 at that point and the crowd was getting loud again. The Gaels didn’t seem interested in making this a close ball game, though. In last year’s meeting in Lawrenceville, Iona had a double-digit second-half lead, and they let Rider back into it, ultimately falling 74-70.
After the lead was cut to 11, Iona scored the next eight to create its largest lead of the night. It would lead by as much as 21, before closing out a 95-76 win to remain in sole possession of second place in the MAAC.
“It wasn’t about our shooting tonight, what about doing a good job of defending?” Baggett said. “I thought we would show up and play well, like we normally do. That wasn’t the case.”
The Broncs were notably without their star freshman Stevie Jordan, who has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
Rider, once 4-1 in conference play and sitting in first place, has fallen to the middle of the pack at 6-7, and 13-11 overall. The Broncs now seek to right the ship as they play host to first-place Monmouth on Monday night.