Albany, N.Y. – Rider survived a near implosion in the opening round of the MAAC tournament to sneak by Quinnipiac 60-57 at the Times Union Center.
The Broncs held a six point lead entering the game’s final two minutes, but missed five of seven free throws down the stretch, allowing Quinnipiac to cut the deficit to just one on a James Ford 3-pointer with just 18 seconds remaining.
Following a Rider turnover on the next possession, the Bobcats seemed poised to steal the game, down one with 14 seconds to play, but Teddy Okereafor intercepted the Bobcats’ inbound attempt and sunk two free throws at the other end to put the Broncs ahead by the final margin.
Rider forced a wild turnaround jumper from Dimitri Floras on the game’s final possession which bounced off the front of the rim.
With the victory, Rider advanced to take on top-seeded Monmouth in the quarterfinal round Friday evening.
Here are three thoughts from Rider’s thrilling win over Quinnipiac:
1.) Okereafor got it done when it counted. Pretty much everything went wrong for the Broncs in the game’s final two minutes as the lead slowly slipped away. Even worse, it was Okereafor, an experienced grad student, clanking free throws in crunch time.
Rider’s veteran finished the season shooting 75% from the free throw line, so his stretch of four missed free throws in five attempts was hardly the norm. Fortunately, when his team really needed him, Okereafor was there to seal the deal.
“I’ve got a short memory from those misses,” Okereafor said. “I know on the next play it was two shots or don’t come back. If I don’t make those two, I’m not sitting here and I’m not coming back tomorrow.”
2.) Quinnipiac’s offense never turned the corner. Head coach Tom Moore had a mighty task ahead of him from day one, bringing seven fresh faces into a program that graduated a pair of 1,000 point scorers last year.
For a time, the Bobcats were on line to set a record low for 2-point field goals. Not just a program low, but an all-time Division I low. Moore’s squad did improve their shooting stroke down the stretch, but finished 351st of 351 Division I teams, shooting 38.3% inside the arc. They were the only team in the nation to make less than 40% of their 2-point attempts.
Quinnipiac has traditionally enjoyed their best success in the month of February, but struggled in the final month of the season this year, finishing February with a 3-7 record including losses in seven of their last eight games.
The Bobcats’ 2-point shooting didn’t fail them Thursday night – instead it was the perimeter shooting that proved their downfall. Quinnipiac shot 47% from inside the arc versus 31.6% from 3-point range.
Freshman forward Abdulai Bundu led the Bobcats with 13 points, but posted 10 of those points in the first half and, along with the rest of the Quinnipiac frontcourt, fell into foul trouble late. Ford finished with 12 points in his final game as a Bobcat while sophomore Chaise Daniels added 10.
Senior Giovanni McLean, who led the Bobcats with 13.3 ppg this season, failed to register a point until a pair of free throws with just 1:01 remaining. Quinnipiac has filed a redshirt application with the NCAA in an attempt to give McLean a 6th year. He previously missed one season due to injury and was declared academically ineligible last season.
3.) Jimmie Taylor continued his success against the Bobcats. The Broncs’ junior has had a penchant for torching Quinnipiac throughout his career. It all started with a 21 point effort in just his eighth collegiate game two years ago. He has since followed that with a 22 point game, a 14 point effort, and led Rider with 18 points Thursday night.
“I was just staying confident in myself,” Taylor said after the game. “Coach was telling me before the game, ‘make sure you knock down shots.’ It’s something that just stuck in my head.”
It wasn’t just Taylor’s big game that propelled the Broncs – junior Kahlil Thomas led a frontcourt force that out-rebounded the Bobcats 33-31, including a 12-6 edge on the offensive glass. Thomas finished with a double-double on 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“Those are some big dudes,” Thomas said of Quinnipiac’s frontcourt. “I was just trying to show my toughness. Sometimes coach says we lack it.”
“It’s always a focus,” Rider head coach Kevin Baggett said of rebounding against Quinnipiac. “They’re very good going to the glass both offensively and defensively and our guys know that. Any time we can even stay close to those guys, let alone out-rebound them, that’s the reason why we’re up here today.”
Rider now advances to take on top seed Monmouth Friday night. The Broncs let the Hawks escape their grasp last month when Justin Robinson nailed a late 3-pointer to give Monmouth a 79-78 victory in Lawrenceville February 12. Monmouth swept the series with a 79-58 win in West Long Branch a week ago.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.