By Steven Eggert
The Broncs experienced a cold snap during the winter break before they were able to find a little steam, dropping four consecutive games to Princeton, Rutgers, Delaware and Loyola (MD). Able to shake off the losses, the Broncs put together an impressive five-game winning streak, defeating Siena, Manhattan, Loyola, St. Peter’s and Iona.
Unable to keep the momentum rolling, the Broncs dropped their next three oponents against Canisius, Manhattan and Fairfield before the students returned to campus.
The Broncs prepared for one final push as they took on and defeated Niagara.
Over winter break, junior guard Anthony Myles (11.8 ppg), senior guard Jon Thompson (11.5 ppg) and junior forward Danny Stewart (11.3 ppg) remained Rider’s top scorers. Junior guard Tommy Pereira has also been a valuable weapon off the bench who has shown the ability to knock down threes and play hard defensively.
In the Broncs last six wins, they averaged 67 ppg, while only averaging 56.25 points in their last four losses. Considering the inconsistency of this team, the mental side of the game has been the difference between winning and losing.
“There’s a fine line and I think it’s confidence,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said. “When guys are losing, they start to lose confidence. That’s something I’ve had to coach more than I’d like to, but the effort is always there. We go through shooting lulls and guys are defending, but we don’t score. It’s kind of a grind at times.”
Against Niagara (14-10, 10-3 MAAC) the Broncs won by a score of 72-69. Myles led the way with 23 points while Thompson added 18.
Prior to the game, Niagara was the best team in the MAAC and second in the conference in scoring with 75.4 ppg. A main reason is the strong backcourt play of guard Juan’ya Green (16.7 ppg).
“Those guys are really good,” Baggett said. “They’re one of the better backcourt duos in the conference and in the country. You might contain them, but they’ve got Ameen Tanksley, Devon White and some other guys who can score.”
On Feb. 9, Rider travels to Iona, the home of the top offense in the MAAC and the third best in the NCAA, averaging about 82 ppg.
“They can score in bunches and we need to protect ourselves from that,” Baggett said. “We also need to try to force the tempo the way we want to play and not to the way they want to, so that’s going to be the message.”
Another MAAC backcourt duo of Lamont “Momo” Jones (21.9 ppg) and Sean Armand (17.7 ppg) headline the Gaels as two of the three top MAAC scorers.
“Against Iona, we’re going to go with the same game plan by trying to contain Jones and Armand,” senior guard Jon Thompson said. “We have to concentrate on the defensive side because they have a lot of offensive firepower.”
Despite Iona’s high-powered offense, the Broncs defeated the team at home, 67-62, on Jan. 20.
“You know what Jones and Armand are going to give you,” Baggett said. “They have more guys that can score the ball. It’s just a matter of which one of the other guys will step up and not allow those guys to go off on us.”
After this week, there are only five games left in the regular season before the MAAC tournament begins. Currently, the Broncs are the fifth seed.
“The last couple of games are very important because they determine seeding for the MAAC tournament,” Thompson said. “We also need to pick up a little momentum so that we are feeling good about ourselves at the tournament.”
One reason Rider always has a chance to win games is the defense. The Broncs are giving up 64.1 ppg, which is over 10 points better than last season.
“I’m confident we can defend for three straight nights [in MAAC tournament] which is what you’re going to have to do,” Baggett said. “If guys rely on scoring sometimes that fails you. I’m confident that we’ll have a chance to win night in and night out in the tournament.”