By Shaun Chornobroff
With Rider leading 75-73 in the waning moments of the team’s exhibition match against Kutztown University, redshirt freshman guard Corey McKeithn drove toward the basket. Finding himself stuck on the baseline, he faked to the outside, spun around and let go of a floater that poetically found its way into the hoop, giving the Broncs a four-point lead and closing off any chance of a Kutztown comeback.
McKeithan, who missed the 2020-21 season with a torn ACL, had a standout debut, coming up crucial for the Broncs in the game closing minutes, scoring 11 points and grabbing three rebounds and an assist in 25 minutes of play.
“This was the Corey we’ve been waiting for,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said after the game.
Having such a high-upside piece like McKeithan is enough of a reason to be optimistic about the 2021 Broncs, especially in a league as guard-driven as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). But McKeithan’s exploits are just the beginning of what this crop of guards has in store.
Mo Murray Mo Problems
Dwight Murray Jr. was an unknown commodity coming into the 2019-20 season. He was one of many transfers finding his way to Lawrenceville. After a 20-point performance in Rider’s opening night loss against Syracuse last season, all Baggett needed to say was “thank God for Dwight.”
That became a mantra throughout the season as Murray was the star on a laboring Broncs team, averaging 15.8 points a night, along with finishing second in the MAAC in assists, 11th in rebounds and top 25 in steals.
He was great at all times, and in the biggest moments, like Rider’s MAAC Tournament upset of Canisius, he was nothing short of magical.
The senior was given All-MAAC second-team honors last season and preseason, first-team honors for the 2021 season and is an obvious contender for MAAC Player of the Year.
With Murray out against Kutztown, Rider’s depth truly got to show. And while McKeithan stole the show late, he wasn’t even in the starting lineup. The guards on the floor for the opening tip were the juniors Allen Powell and Sedrick Altman. Both figure to play major roles for the Broncs this season, but their paths to this point are much different.
Powell was an underutilized reserve his freshman season and struggled to get going in the beginning of his sophomore season. Powell established himself as one of the most accurate shooters the MAAC has, converting an obscene 44% of his three-point attempts and cementing himself as the perfect complement to Murray.
In big moments, Powell was once again there, with his calm demeanor and relentless confidence from beyond the arc being a constant catalyst for Broncs scoring outbursts.
In a win against Saint Peter’s on Feb. 27, Powell made his first seven attempts from beyond the arc en route to a career-high 25 points. When asked about the awe-inducing display of shooting, he calmly said, “I definitely know I’m capable of it.”
Powell’s quiet confidence exudes at all times, and that, along with his growing ability as a floor general, makes him a danger to any opponent.
Altman, on the other hand, brings a unique pedigree to this Rider team. The California native has spent the past two seasons at Pepperdine, starting 39 of 57 games he played for the Waves.
Adding a guard with Altman’s experience is always a positive, but it’s not just the experience that a 6-foot-2 guard provides that’s going to help him take a Rider team that gave up the second-most points in the conference last year to the next level.
“He was on the all-rookie team his first year at Pepperdine and having started both years at Pepperdine, on some very good Pepperdine teams, played with some very talented guys. … I think Sedrick’s a really, really good defender,” Baggett said in a media call on Oct. 21. “I think he’s a really good overall player, but the thing that stands out to me is how good of a defender he is.”
A Strong Outlook
The quartet of Murray, Powell, Altman and McKeithan is easily one of, if not the best that the MAAC has heading into the 2021-22 season.
Combine those guards with the potent duo of graduate student Dimencio Vaughn, who was named preseason Second Team All-MAAC and is returning to Lawrenceville after transferring to Ole Miss for the 2020 season. Alongside him is junior Mervin James, who was an all-conference member at Northern Alabama before transferring to Rider this season. Both forwards paced the Broncs with 19 points.
With those forwards and an elite quartet of guards, there’s no reason the Broncs should not be in store for an exciting and successful 2021 season.