Lineup changes fuel Rider in victory over Norfolk State

By Rob Rose

Fueled by a new-found passion from a change to its starting lineup after a two-straight losses on the road, the men’s basketball team continued its dominance at Alumni Gym with an 81-71 victory over Norfolk State on Dec. 12.

Although it was the first game of his career where he wasn’t a starter, sophomore guard Jordan Allen provided Rider with his usual spark and led his team with 20 points. Allen poured in 16 points in the second half after a four-point first half and made four three-pointers.

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“My role never changes,” said Allen. “My role is to shoot the ball, make plays and play defense.”

Allen’s offensive outburst was key in the run to close out the victory for Rider. After the first half was dominated by the Broncs, the second half was a back-and-forth contest which saw the lead change 17 times and the game tied seven times.

After a 2-3 start to the season, Head Coach Kevin Baggett decided it was necessary to make some adjustments to the usual starting lineup.

“We’ve not been playing like a team,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “We [have to] come together as a team. Guys [have to] understand it’s about everybody on the team and not any one individual.”

Baggett made two tweaks to his starting lineup that had been crucial during last season’s regular-season championship run. Junior guard Kimar Williams replaced Allen, while freshman forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson took the place of junior center Tyere Marshall. Both Williams and Ogemuno-Johnson made their first collegiate starts in the contest.

Marshall and sophomore forward Frederick Scott were out due to a coach’s decision and illness, respectively. This was the first game where neither Marshall or Scott started for Rider since the 2017-18 season began. Baggett expected both players to be available for Rider’s next game on Dec. 15 and did not say whether Marshall or Allen would return to their normal roles.

Ogemuno-Johnson fired up the Alumni Gym crowd with a pair of thunderous dunks en route to an 10-point, seven-rebound and four-block night. Junior forward Devine Eke added six points and five rebounds as he and Ogemuno-Johnson attempted to replace Marshall’s production.

“I have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” said Ogemuno-Johnson. “I trust [Baggett], he’s making changes and he knows what he’s doing.”

Despite the new rotations, the Broncs’ offense got off to a strong start. Junior guard Stevie Jordan fueled the offense, as usual. Jordan scored 18 points, connected on three times from beyond the arc and dished out three assists.

Jordan, who entered the contest a career 31 percent shooter from three-point range, had made 56 percent of his three-point attempts this season.

“Everyday late in the evening you can find Stevie in the back practice gym working on [three-pointers],” said Baggett. “He’s making them because he’s put in the time and he will continue to put in the time.”

Rider’s lead swelled to 18 with four minutes left in the first half, but Norfolk State chipped away and trimmed the Broncs’ advantage to six as the teams headed to the locker rooms. The Broncs led for all but 53 seconds in the first half.

In losses at Central Florida and West Virginia earlier this season, Rider also saw first-half leads dwindle away as the halftime buzzer sounded. Norfolk State increased its pressure as the second half began and took the lead with a trio of three-pointers.

So far this season, Rider’s best offense had been a good defense. In each of the Broncs’ previous two victories, they had forced at least 20 turnovers, which created easy offense at the other end of the court. Against the Spartans, the Broncs forced 23 turnovers which they turned into 17 points.

Despite the win, Rider’s struggles from the free-throw line continued. After the Broncs connected on just 45 percent of their foul shots in the loss against Hofstra on Dec. 8, they made 50 percent of their attempts against the Spartans.

“We’ve got to make free throws,” said Baggett. “It’s going to cost us if we don’t make them. Our guys make them in practice. We’ve got to focus better.”

Rider turned its focus another home contest in its next game against Robert Morris on Dec. 15 at 3 p.m.

Follow Rob Rose on Twitter.

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