Men’s College Basketball
Rider University 85, Niagara University 83
LAWRENCEVILLE, NJ— With the cold wind blowing snow drifts outside, it does a body good to reminisce of warm days in the sun.
Rider head coach Kevin Baggett has good reason to be thinking of his warm days in the sun, when he was scouting a pair of Florida recruits.
A pair of Floridian freshmen, Jimmie Taylor III (Branford, Fla./Suwannee) and Kahlil Thomas (Parkway, Fla./Blanche Ely), combined for 37 points and seven rebounds to lead Rider to a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference victory over Niagara Thursday evening.
JT3 compiled a career-high 24 points and Thomas added 13 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench, as Rider’s bench out-scored the Niagara bench 29-18.
“I’m happy we got the win,” Baggett said, “but that is one of the only things I can be positive about right now. I thought we played awful. I saw more layups tonight than I’ve seen in a long time.”
Niagara scored 48 of its points in the paint.
With the score tied at 54-54, Rider (7-5, 3-0 MAAC) went on a 10-2 run, four points by Taylor, to take a 64-56 lead with 6:11 left to play.
Taylor made 11 of 12 foul shots in the game. “He made free throws the way I know he is capable of doing,” Baggett said of his rookie point guard.
“Last game (89-88 win over Penn) was not a very good game for me,” said Taylor, who compiled three points, four assists and four rebounds against Penn. “I wanted to come out and be more aggressive tonight.”
Thomas has enjoyed two quality games in a row, compiling 27 points and 10 rebounds in his last 36 minutes of action.
All five MAAC games Thursday evening were changed due to the Winter Storm Hercules. A Herculean effort by Niagara junior Antoine Mason made the game much closer than it had to be.
Niagara (4-10, 1-2 MAAC) went on a 12-6 run, nine points by Mason, to cut the lead to 80-77 with 25 seconds remaining. “Once he decided to go he started lowering his head and leaning in and he takes advantage of the rules,” Baggett said of Mason, the nation’s leading scorer, who finished with 31 points in 40 minutes of action.
The Broncs entered the game leading the nation in three-point field goal percentage, shooting 44.2 percent from the field, but shot just 35 percent Thursday (6 of 17).
Niagara came into the game having won three of its last four games.
Holding a 45-44 lead, Rider went on an 8-2 run to take a 53-46 lead with 13:12 remaining.
Trailing 15-11, Rider out-scored Niagara 12-5, four points by senior Daniel Stewart (Philadelphia, PA/Neumann-Goretti), to take a 23-20 lead with 7:25 left in the first half, and led 38-31 at the half. Stewart finished with six points and nine rebounds.
Niagara jumped out to a 7-2 lead, five points by Joe Thomas, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Thomas entered the game averaging 2.4 points and 2.1 rebounds. “We gave him a career night,” Baggett said.
Rider out-rebounded Niagara 45-38.
The victory was the fourth home win in a row for Rider.
Rider has now won five of its last six games, the lone loss at #8 Villanova.
The 2006-07 season was the last time Niagara won at Rider, with the Broncs winning the last seven in Lawrenceville.
Rider beat Niagara 72-69 when the Purple Eagles last came to Alumni Gym on February 7, 2013 and the Broncs won 68-59 in the last meeting, February 28, 2013 in Western New York.
Rider and Niagara have now met 38 times since the series began in 1991-92, with Rider winning 18, including eight of the last nine and 10 of the last 13.
Since joining the MAAC, Rider is 18-15 against Niagara in regular season games.
Niagara beat Rider in double overtime in the 2009 MAAC semifinals and in the 2005 MAAC Title Game.
Rider travels to Siena Saturday evening. “I’m happy with our 3-0 start in the league but that is going to go away in a hurry if we don’t play better,” Baggett said. “A bad win is better than a good loss. I just know that we are so much better than what we showed our last two games.”
“We need to get back into the gym tomorrow and work hard,” Taylor said.
The Broncs can spend all day in the gym on Friday, as the Rider campus will be closed due to Winter Storm Hercules.
Hercules, the Roman name for the Greek god Heracles, was famous for his strength and for his numerous far-ranging adventures. Hercules’ life was not easy. He endured many trials and completed many daunting tasks, including the “Twelve Labors” with the reward for his suffering a promise that he would live forever among the gods at Mount Olympus.
The 12 Labors were feats so difficult that they seemed impossible. His struggles made him the perfect embodiment of an idea the Greeks called ‘pathos’, the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering which would lead to fame and immortality.
The Broncs have struggled through a pair of wins while not playing at their best. Hopefully these struggles will be virtuous and will lead to the fame that goes along with postseason play.