By Corey Donetz
Rider’s men’s basketball team has kept its assumed New Year’s resolution of playing better basketball thus far.
The Broncs have put their abysmal 3-11 record in 2011 in the past, going 6-3 in 2012 while playing much improved basketball.
The Broncs (9-14, 6-5 MAAC) are looking to ride the momentum of their three-game winning streak when they hit the road for their first road game in two weeks to take on Loyola (MD) (16-5, 9-2 MAAC) tonight at 7 p.m. The Greyhounds are in a three-way tie for first place in the MAAC with Iona (17-5, 9-2 MAAC) and Manhattan (16-7, 9-2 MAAC).
This is the first meeting between the two this season as the Greyhounds come into the game on a four-game winning streak, each game ending with a margin of double-digits. The Greyhounds are led by junior forward Erik Etherly, who is first on the team in field goal percentage (52 percent) and rebounds (7.6 per game). Etherly is also second on the team in points, averaging 13 points per game.
Rebounding and inside play will be essential for the Broncs against the Greyhounds. Loyola has given up 70-plus points only five times this season, so baskets will be at a premium.
Rider’s most recent win came against conference rival Siena this past Sunday, earning an 83-72 victory. Playing in front of the home crowd has been a strong point for Rider this season, recording a 4-1 record at home in conference action.
“[When playing at home] you have the crowd behind you and when you’re doing well, they give you the extra push you need,” sophomore forward Daniel Stewart said. “We’ve been playing together more and have been grabbing rebounds, which leads to running, which is our strength.”
The improved play couldn’t have come at a better time as the season is coming to a close and the MAAC tournament is approaching.
“Everybody on our team has very good individual talent, but to get it done we have to do things as a unit,” senior forward Novar Gadson said. [We have lately], and that’s why we have been winning.”
Gadson got off to a slow start this season coming off knee surgery in the offseason, but he has since found his groove and is averaging 14 points per game over the last four games.
“My knee was bothering me at the beginning of the year, which is why I didn’t play well,” Gadson said. “I’ve built a lot of muscle in both of my legs, which is why I’m playing very well. My knee is back and I feel great.”
Seniors Jeff Jones and Brandon Penn have also stepped up their play of late and are the top two scorers for the Broncs. Stewart has arguably been the team’s most consistent player all season long, leading the team in rebounding, grabbing seven rebounds per game while also scoring 12.3 points per game.
“For the next two games, we will continue to do what we’ve been doing all year,” Gadson said. “And that’s staying together, preparing hard by paying attention to scouting and executing to finish our season strong.”
The Broncs will return to Alumni Gym on Sunday to host Niagara, another MAAC team the Broncs have yet to play.
Niagara (9-14, 4-7 MAAC) is led by freshmen Juan’ya Green and Antoine Mason. Green leads the team in scoring and assists with 17.3 points and 4.4 assists per game, while Mason ranks second in both categories with 15.3 points and 2.3 assists per game.
Rider must buckle down on perimeter defense and control the game, while slowing down the Purple Eagles’ guard play.
The Broncs look to close the gap with Fairfield and clinch the fourth seed, assuring itself a first round bye in the MAAC tournament.
“We just have to continue to get better,” Stewart added. “Coach said that some teams stop getting better, but we have to keep getting better individually and as a team.”