By Steven Eggert
After winning twice in Mexico at the Hoops for Hope Classic, the Broncs (4-4) said “adios” and faced La Salle (4-1) back in Alumni Gym on Thursday.
In the days leading up to the game, the focus in practice was to adjust to the challenges of playing against La Salle’s professional style of offense.
“They kind play an NBA-style offense where they set a lot of ball screens, go one-on-one and get some mismatches,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said. “They create some problems because they are well-coached and this is probably one of the most talented teams they’ve had in a long time.”
La Salle was able to defeat Rider by a score of 63-52. The Explorers started the game on a 24-6 scoring run through the first nine minutes of the first half and never looked back. The Broncs were able to cut the margin of deficit down to six points, but the poor start to the game and trailing by double digits at halftime hurt them in the end.
Baggett took blame for not being ready to play after a tough week of practicing.
“Give credit to John Giannini,” Baggett said. “He did a good job with his team. I obviously didn’t. The way we came out, we spotted them 20 points which was the difference at the end of the game. You’ve got to prepare the right way if you want to win. It starts with me, and I will make sure these guys will be ready [for Drexel].”
Leading the way for the Broncs was junior forward Danny Stewart and junior guard Anthony Myles, each of whom scored 12 points and had nine rebounds.
The Broncs have faced LaSalle in each of the past five seasons and have gone 1-4 throughout that time.
On Saturday, the Broncs go to Philadelphia to face the Drexel Dragons (2-4), who defeated the Broncs in their 6 a.m. game last season by a score of 80-62.
Despite Drexel’s below .500 record this season, the Dragons have proven to be a consistently tough test for the Broncs to outmatch throughout the years. Since the 2007-08 season, the Broncs have lost each of the four games against them.
Rider’s defense has given up 66.9 points per game through the first eight games this season. At this point in time last season, the Broncs had given up 79.75 points per game. With the improved defense, players are more confident going into each game.
“[Drexel] takes pride on the defense and that is why we struggled with them in the past,” senior guard Jon Thompson said. “Now that we are a more defensive team, we play harder and press teams to create turnovers. I think we should do a better job against [them].”
Drexel’s leading scorer, senior guard Chris Fouch, who was averaging 16.7 points per game, fractured his ankle and will miss the remainder of the season. Nonetheless, Baggett still realizes that Dragons’ head coach, James “Bruiser” Flint, will still put forth a competitive lineup to face the Broncs despite the loss of their leading scorer.
“I don’t care if Drexel loses all their men — Bruiser is going to have them defend regardless of who’s on that roster and who’s on that bench,” Baggett said. “They’ll be in games, they defend and it’ll be a tough test because they have guys who will step up and rally around Fouch’s injury. It’ll be the next guy on the bench that will step up and he’ll get them going.”
This season, the Broncs have gotten off to a better start than last years 1-7 record. One reason the Broncs have played better this season is they have worked on scoring in many ways rather than relying heavily on three-pointers. This season there has been a correlation between a balanced scoring attack and winning games.
“I thought at times last year we lived and died by the three-point line,” Baggett said. “My focus this year is to balance scoring from our guards and big guys, scoring inside and out. I think there’s more pressure that you can put on a defense by driving than not getting in the lane and settling for threes. That’s how we’ve won games this year — when we were balanced as opposed to being guard heavy.”
Thompson agreed with his coach. He also felt that he and the other guards need to do a better job with getting the low post players involved in the scoring attack.
“For us personally, getting it inside is something we need to do more,” Thompson said. “The balance of the offense is very important because it makes other team’s job harder.”