By Josh Veltrie
With only a month left until the postseason tournaments begin, Rider’s basketball teams are not in the positions they had hoped for when the season began. However, if men’s and women’s basketball manage to finish the season strong and win a couple of games in the MAAC Tournament, the mediocre seasons the Broncs have had thus far will be forgotten.
The men’s team now stands at 13-11 overall, 6-6 in conference play and 3-0 in its last three games, which have all been against MAAC opponents. After the amazing start and possibly the biggest win in Rider basketball history against the then No. 19 Mississippi State, the Broncs have struggled to find their rhythm offensively and defensively until recently.
Though picked to finish third in the conference, Rider, now fifth, has been as far down as seventh in the MAAC. But most people fail to see past the extremely difficult non-conference schedule into the conference schedule that saw a brutally tough road trip while most students were away on winter break.
What didn’t help was a lack of confidence on the floor that seemed to hit all the players during the road trip. The Broncs lost seven of 12 games, with six of the defeats being in MAAC play. Two of those games were at home, but since classes weren’t in session, the energy wasn’t the same in Alumni Gym, according to Head Coach Tommy Dempsey. He also said that there was a point when the confidence was so low, it was affecting the effort on the court.
“Our group as a whole wasn’t playing with a lot of confidence; it wasn’t just one individual,” he said. “When we weren’t playing well, we weren’t playing hard enough, we weren’t playing with confidence on offense but we weren’t playing well on defense either. Everything was kind of snowballing because guys weren’t playing hard because they weren’t playing well.”
One of the reasons for the recent winning streak has been the resurgence of the MAAC Pre-season Player of the Year, senior guard Ryan Thompson.
During the three games, Thompson compiled 68 points, grabbed 24 rebounds and dished out 11 assists. This type of play is what everyone has been expecting during Thompson’s senior campaign.
These next seven games are extremely crucial to keep the momentum going and roll into the MAAC Tournament with a lot of confidence. Out of the seven games, six of them are in conference and only one of those conference games is on the road.
“I think we played our best game since opening night Saturday [an 88-80 victory over Fairfield],” Dempsey said. “Whether we have turned the corner, I think it’s too early to say right now, but hopefully we can build on this three-game win streak and finish the season strong.”
The women’s team, which was picked to finish fourth in the conference, finds itself last in the MAAC with an overall record of 3-18, and 1-9 in conference play. The lone win in the MAAC came last Sunday against Manhattan, a victory that snapped an 11-game losing streak.
Faced with adversity not many teams would have to go through during a season, the Broncs find themselves without senior Tammy Meyers. Meyers left the team for personal reasons after nine games into the season when she was selected to the Pre-season First Team All-MAAC and was also the Broncs’ leading scorer before her departure.
As a team, the Broncs are shooting 33 percent from the field while allowing their opponents to knock down 40 percent of their shots. Rider is also only hitting 28 percent of its three-pointers and 53 percent from the free-throw line.
“We’ve been having a lot of trouble staying consistent,” said Head Coach Lynn Milligan. “When we perform well offensively one night, we usually don’t play well defensively; we can’t seem to put everything together.”
The women’s team had a road trip similar to the men’s, with a stretch where eight out of 10 games were on the road, and one of the two home games in that span was during winter break. The Broncs managed to win just one of those 10 games, against Princeton.
“When a team is young and not really used to losing, it is hard to keep their confidence up when things aren’t going well,” said Milligan. “Hopefully we can build on our solid performace Sunday [against Manhattan] and be playing our best basketball by the time the MAAC Tournament comes around.”
The next eight games do not get any easier as five of them are on the road and all of the games are against conference foes. Hopefully Rider will manage to string together a couple wins before the MAAC Tournament, because it needs to go into it with the mind-set that it can play with anyone in the league. If the players don’t have that mind-set, then they have already lost before they have even set foot on the court.