Saint Peter’s came into Thursday as the highest seed remaining in the MAAC Men’s Basketball Championships. The Peacocks had their great season cut short last year before playing in the 2020 MAAC Tournament, so needless to say that they were ready to make a statement against Rider. Niagara and Marist competed to see who would take on Rick Pitino’s red-hot Iona Gaels on Friday night.
No. 3 Saint Peter’s 75, No. 11 Rider 60
The name of the game was turnovers for Saint Peter's early. At the halfway point of the first half against Rider, the Peacocks turned the ball over seven times. Defensively, Saint Peter's could not close out on Rider's shooters as the Broncos were leading 22-16 at the ten-minute media timeout. Saint Peter's head coach Shaheen Holloway was unhappy with the defensive effort of the Peacocks at various moments of the first half.
Meanwhile, Dwight Murray Jr. and Rodney Henderson Jr. were lighting up the scoreboard combining for 13 early points for Rider. While Saint Peter's turned the ball over seven times, Rider was able to turn those turnovers into 13 points as the Broncos were on fire inside and out in the first half. As the half continued, Saint Peter's joined in on the hot shooting as Rider held a 36-33 lead at the half. MAAC Defensive Player of the Year KC Ndefo led Saint Peter's with nine points while Rider was led by Murray, who also had nine points.
Saint Peter's started the second half on an 8-2 run to take their first lead 41-38 at the 18-minute mark. From there, Saint Peter's defense picked up the pressure and held Rider to 36 percent shooting in the second half as Daryl Banks III took over. Banks III scored 14 points in the second half, with many of those points coming after Ndefo went to the bench with three fouls.
"I talk to Daryl all the time, and Daryl has to be more aggressive," Holloway said after the win. "He's such a great kid. He's so unselfish. I need him to play selfish a little bit. He came out, mid-first half, and the rest of the game looking to be aggressive. I tell him that's what he has to do all the time. He can't let his jump shot dictate how he plays. I think tonight he mixed it up."
Banks III finished with 20 points, while Ndefo added 18 points, seven rebounds, and four assists for the Peacocks. Murray Jr. and Henderson Jr. each led Rider with 15 points apiece. The Broncs shot just 20 percent from beyond the arc in the second half, where they were outscored 42-24.
"I thought our guys did a good job in the first half. In the second half, they were very physical with us. We didn't match that, offensively or defensively, and we couldn't get stops," said Rider head coach Kevin Baggett.
Saint Peter's moves on to the MAAC Tournament semifinals, where they will face Fairfield, who upset number two seed Monmouth on Wednesday night.
No. 5 Niagara 67, No. 4 Marist 62
0-for-8 from three-point land and 29 percent shooting in the first half...and Niagara led Marist by eight at the half. The Purple Eagles dominated the board in the first 20 minutes of play 31- 16, which included 13 offensive rebounds. While they shot better from beyond the arc, Marist could not grab rebounds as they allowed 13 Niagara second-chance points. Niagara held an eight-point lead at halftime as they were led by Kobi Nwandu, who scored 10 points.
Niagara held Marist in check leading by as much as 19 in the second half. The Red Foxes began to trim the lead, and after a 10-2 run, they cut the deficit to 62-58 with two and a half minutes left in regulation. The Purple Eagles began to struggle as they went 1-for-7 down the stretch.
After two missed Nwandu free throws, Raheim Sullivan’s drive to the hoop was blocked by Nwandu. Jordan Jones’ put-back attempt was no good as Niagara hit free throws to hold on and advance to play Iona on Friday.
Raheem Solomon led Niagara with 17 points, and Nwandu added 15 points. Jordan Jones finished with 14 points and ten rebounds for Marist in the loss.
“Marist is a terrific basketball team. They’re so well coached and they had an unbelievable season,” Niagara head coach Greg Paulus said during his postgame TV interview. “I’m just really proud of my guys. Not playing for a couple of weeks, coming off of a pause. I thought at different points it showed but we stayed together and made just enough plays. It shows the character of our group.”
Final Four Friday in AC
Here are the MAAC Tournament semifinal matchups for Friday’s games at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
No. 9 Iona vs. No. 5 Niagara, 5:30 p.m. on ESPNews
No. 7 Fairfield vs. No. 3 Saint Peter’s, 8:00 p.m. on ESPNU
Stay with Jersey Sporting News for continuing coverage of the MAAC Men's Basketball Tournament from Atlantic City.