By Norman Rose (@ECoastBias)
ALBANY, NY -- Nothing came easy for the top seeded Rider Broncs on their first, and only, night in the 2018 MAAC Tournament. The Broncs fell to the #9 seeded Saint Peter's Peacocks, 66-55 in the first game of the Friday night session.
Saint Peter's comes back for the Sunday, 7 pm game against the winner of Iona/ Manhattan tomorrow in the semifinals. The Rider Broncs, who scored their lowest point total of the season, wait for NIT seeding; they receive and automatic bid to the secondary tournament.
"We played out of character today," said Rider coach Kevin Baggett. "And you can remind me that I can't play in this round."
"We just underrated people," Rider freshman wing Dimencio Vaughn (eight points, nine rebounds) said, upset. "We gotta play as a team. To be honest, we didn't buy in and they burned us."
Along with Baggett's recent history, there's this whole thing about how the #1 seed in the MAAC Tournament hasn't won in years, plus the fact that Rider had beaten Saint Peter's twice, but by a combined seven points over two games in MAAC play. The Peacocks had enjoyed large leads against the Broncs, only to fold under pressure.
But not tonight.
The game started well enough for Rider, it seemed, with the Broncs getting the ball in to center Tyere Marshall (13 points) to attack with their size. But still, offense was hard, and while the Peacocks were rushed, so were the Broncs.
Rider earned an eight point lead by 4:07 in the first half... and the Peacocks spread their magic defensive force field and brought on the John Dunne Special.
It was 25-17 at the 4 minute mark. Saint Peter's scored 10 straight to end the half, and the Broncs scored... 0. The Broncs missed two shots, three free throws, committed two turnovers, and looked generally out of sync.
"We kept saying, it doesn't have to be pretty," said Saint Peter's coach John Dunne after the game, "you just have to be ahead when the zeroes hit."
Before two free throws from Dimencio Vaughn, who was frustrated with his teammates by this point at the 12 minute mark, Saint Peter's scored 15 points in the half... while the Broncs scored 3.
The Peacocks led by as many as 15 in the second half, finding a competent enough offense to hang on.
"[In the first meeting between Rider and Saint Peter's] we were up more double digits, they fought back," John Dunne said. "[In the second meeting] we were up 15 or 16 in the second half. So I knew we could live in the moment. True to form, they press, they turn you over and they crush you on the glass.""
Rider, the number 1 seed in the MAAC, indeed put some pressure on. But freshman point guard Elijah Gonzalez had the quick dribble for the Peacocks, keeping possessions going, keeping the sluggish pace for Saint Peter's, and keeping Rider chasing the game.
Kevin Baggett took on some blame, and so did his players. "I gotta do a better job," Baggett said. "These guys, they gotta grow up. No slight on the NIT but we all wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament. Learning these tournaments are different than the regular season. I gotta do a better job.
"John Dunne's teams defend. But when we're not patient, we feed into what they're trying to do. I'd like to think it was more of what we didn't get done than what they did to us."
Saint Peter's, the lowest seed to make the semifinals, looks to a run in this tournament.
"We guard the way we guard, stay low turnover, we make shots, we have as much of a chance as anyone to win this thing," Dunne said.