By David Nugent
After a disappointing start to the season, the Broncs (1-6) are hoping for a rebirth this weekend as they begin conference play, hosting Manhattan tonight and traveling to Marist on Sunday.
Head Coach Tommy Dempsey considers the beginning of conference play as the start of a new season.
“Your MAAC games take on a different importance,” he said. “Conference play gives you a rebirth to the season. Even though it looks like in the season we’ve dug a little bit of a hole, really it doesn’t matter because we haven’t dug a hole in the league.”
Manhattan (3-4) enters Friday’s contest on a three-game slide, having lost to Penn, 75-72, on Tuesday, to Columbia, 59-41, on Nov. 26 and Colorado St., 91-86, in overtime as part of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off on Nov. 15.
Manhattan is led by last season’s All-MAAC swingman junior George Beamon, who averages 15 points and five rebounds per game.
Dempsey said Manhattan plays a team game. The Jaspers are not just built around one guy.
The biggest issue Dempsey sees standing in the way of a victory tonight is turnovers.
“We’ve been very turnover prone,” he said. “The key to [tonight’s] game will be our ability to take care of the basketball.”
Sophomore Daniel Stewart said that the season starts anew tonight.
“We’ve had a pretty rough start but we’re buying into what the coaches are telling us every day in practice,” he said. “We’re going into [tonight’s] game as 0-0 in hopes of a better response.”
Rider will travel to Marist (2-4) on Sunday. The Red Foxes are led by a trio of players averaging more than 10 points per game.
After opening the season 0-3, the Red Foxes have won two of their last three games.
Freshman Lewis Chavaughn averages just over 12 points per game. Red shirt junior Dorvell Carter adds 11.7 points per game and junior Devin Price is averaging 11.2.
Dempsey knows that winning starts with rebuilding the team’s morale.
“We have to respond to the fact we’re not playing really well right now,” he said. “We’ve lost a little bit of confidence. I think what’s important is that we have a good week of practice, so that when we take the court, we expect to win.”
Dempsey sees three important areas in which Rider needs to improve if it wants to get back to winning basketball games.
“We have three major issues and they’re all big picture issues: defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball,” he said. “If you don’t play well in those three areas, you’re going to lose a lot of games. We are working on a daily basis to become a better defensive team, a better rebounding team and to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
Rider dropped its previous two meetings in The Hoop Group Classic at the historic Palestra in Philadelphia. The Broncs lost to La Salle, 82-70, and James Madison, 86-69.
Even though the Broncs dropped both of these contests, Dempsey sees the positives as well as the negatives.
“We did a poor job defending the three-point shot,” he said. “I thought we did a better job defending inside, which has been a real problem because we’re small. I thought we gave up too many three-point shots.”
The offense is progressing and Rider’s work in the paint is improving.
“What I liked offensively was we got the ball inside,” Dempsey said. “We got ourselves to the free throw line and we’re developing an inside presence in Daniel Stewart.”
Dempsey is not pleased with the results, but Rider has been challenged the way he had wanted.
“It’s painful to be 1-6 right now, but I set the schedule up in a way that we need to be a really good team,” he said. “This has been a program over the past few years that when we take the court we expect to win.”