LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J.– If there is one thing neutral fans of MAAC basketball are hoping for, it is for a Rider and Manhattan matchup at the MAAC Tournament.
For Rider and Manhattan fans, maybe not so much.
For the second time this season, the Manhattan Jaspers lost a nail-biter to the Rider Broncs in overtime. The 85-77 defeat to the Broncs means the Jaspers are now tied for third and although they technically trail the Broncs by one game for second place, by losing the season series, they really trail by two games because the Broncs hold the tiebreaker.
Head coach Steve Masiello made sure to give Rider credit after the game and weighed in on the possibility of meeting for a third time.
“It’s one of those things where, give them credit for their preparation on the way they played us and you know, if there is a third time, I’m sure we’ll adjust,” Masiello said.
There was much anticipation for Sunday’s game as Manhattan squared off against the team it was tied with for second place in the standings.
But at the start of the game, it seemed as if the contest would not live up to the expectations, as the Broncs came out firing on all cylinders. Rider started the game shooting 11-13 from the field and held a 25-10 lead. Early on, it was apparent that the Broncs were intent on feeding their 7-foot center Matt Lopez the ball, as he scored nine of the first 25 points.
But as the Jaspers have done on numerous occasions in the past, they turned their defensive intensity up and slowly crawled back into the game on the back of forced turnovers and good defense.
Manhattan forced five Rider turnovers and held the Broncs to 5-13 from the field to end the half on a 27-12 run and draw level at 37 heading into the locker room. Apart from the defensive pressure put on from Manhattan, it also got back into the game behind 13-18 shooting from the free throw line as opposed to Rider’s woeful 2-11 mark.
“We recognize that basketball is a game of runs,” Lopez said. “So I mean, when the score fluctuates and we go down, we just have to keep our head and grind it out and get one stop at a time.”
Roles were reversed in the second half, as it was the Jaspers who got out to the hot start and Rider went down big.
The Jaspers came out the gate shooting 9-14 from the field to go out to a 10 point lead with 11 minutes remaining.
However, the Broncs would cut into the lead behind a 6-0 run. The Jaspers would quiet the storm a bit and extend the lead to 66-61, but there went Rider once again and five points from Zedric Sadler and two from Lopez sparked a 7-0 run that helped the Broncs regain the lead at 68-67.
Manhattan scored five of the next seven points to go up 72-70, but a key miss from the free throw line by RaShawn Stores gave Rider the chance to tie or take the lead. On the other end, Stores fouled out trying to draw a charge and Teddy Okereafor stepped up to the line and buried both free throws to tie the game at 72.
The Jaspers had a chance to win the game and called a timeout to set up a play. However, Emmy Andujar received the ball on the low block and got his layup blocked at the rim, which meant the two teams would head to overtime for the second time this season.
There was not much to tell in overtime as it was all Rider from start to finish.
As he had done all night, Lopez killed the Jaspers inside, scoring the first four points of overtime. He would tack on two more later on to finish with a career-high 27 points, to go along with 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Although the Broncs struggled from the free throw line during the first two halves—hitting just 8-19—they hit the ones that counted in overtime, going 8-13 to seal the 85-77 victory.
“For my blood pressure sake, yea I wish there wasn’t as many nail-biters,” Kevin Baggett, Rider’s head coach said after the game. “But you know what? It’s fun man. I mean, if you can’t get excited about that and basketball playing in that environment and what’s on the line, I mean it doesn’t get any better than that if you’re a competitor and if you’re a true fan of basketball.”
“That’s exactly what I am. That’s exactly what these guys [his team] are, and we’re passionate about what we do. It was fun. I enjoyed myself a great deal.”
Shane Richards led the way for the Jaspers with 18 points and five rebounds. Pankey continued his stellar play with 16 points and 10 rebounds, making it nine out of the last 10 games where he has scored in double figures. Andujar had a solid game himself with 17 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
The Jaspers now head into a crucial week with two home games. One against the conference leaders, Iona Gaels and the other against a Fairfield team that defeated the Jaspers earlier in the season.