By Brandon Scalea
A new-look offense for the men’s basketball team seems to be clicking early.
After a dismal 1-8 start to the 2015-16 season, Rider started its season 1-0 for the first time since 2013-14, convincingly beating a back-to-back NCAA Tournament team, Hampton, 67-56.
The Broncs led for the entire game and, other than a brief moment in the second half when the Pirates closed the deficit to two, they were in control. All five of Rider’s starters scored at least nine points.
Senior forward Kahlil Thomas thinks the game was a good example of how the team has improved since last season.
“Every win is big, but this one was big because it was a real good test,” he said. “We got off to a good start early and we never looked back.”
Freshman guard Stevie Jordan proved he could be a dangerous player this season, going off for 14 points and five assists in his collegiate debut. He earned MAAC Rookie-of-the-Week honors for his play.
Senior forward Xavier Lundy also had 14 points, all in the first half.
Rider and Hampton exchanged three-pointers to start the contest, before the Broncs opened a 9-0 run to create separation. Rider kept up its offensive flow and did not let its lead dwindle by much throughout the first half.
They led by as much as 17 in the first half, when it was 27-10 about 14 minutes in.
The Pirates threatened to chip away, but senior guard Jimmie Taylor, who eclipsed the 1,000 career point mark late last season, nailed a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give the Broncs a 36-24 lead. Taylor had nine points and three steals.
The Broncs shot just under 50 percent from the field in the first half, to Hampton’s meager 27.3 percent.
In the second, the home team made it a close basketball game after Rider started the half with a 6-0 run. Jordan continued his contributions in his debut with four straight points in that run, which gave Rider a 42-24 lead with just under 18 minutes remaining in the game.
With eight minutes left in regulation, the Pirates used a 10-0 run to cut the Rider lead to 50-48, and the crowd of 2,152 was getting into it. Hampton’s Kalin Fisher led the way with 14 points and Jermaine Marrow had 13.
With the Broncs leading by just two at that point, graduate forward and Southern Mississippi transfer Norville Carey hit a lay-up for the first two of eight straight Rider points. The Broncs would also score 15 of the last 19 to knock off the two-time defending MEAC champion.
One consequence the Broncs’ faster-paced offense could be facing early on in the season is the high number of turnovers committed. Rider committed 20 turnovers, which is far more than the 12.79 turnovers per game committed last season, and more than Hampton’s 19 turnovers.
Rider not only dominated Hampton in the paint, outscoring the Pirates in that category 34-28, but it also took advantage of the Pirates’ mistakes. Rider scored 21 points off turnovers, while Hampton only managed to muster up 13 points, despite
Rider committing more turnovers in the season opener.
The win is a positive step for the Broncs, as it took them four games before winning their first game last year. The team also faced a difficult non-conference schedule last year, facing ranked teams Maryland and Providence on the road en route to a 4-7 record in non-MAAC games.
Carey finished with 13 points and six assists and Thomas had 11 points, shooting 5 of 6 from the field.
Thomas thinks the duo of him and Carey down low will be a great dynamic.
“I think we’re going to be very tough to stop,” he said. “Last year, they always doubled me up. If one of us is doubled, the other one is going to be open. We both can score down low.”
The Broncs are back in action on Nov. 16 when they head up to Hartford, whom they beat in double overtime last season. Rider then has a tough test against South Florida on Nov. 19, in Tampa. The game against South Florida will be broadcasted on ESPN3.
The Broncs don’t have their home opener until Dec. 1, against Fairfield in Rider’s MAAC-season opener. The Broncs lost both games against Fairfield last season, with both games being decided by five points or less.