By Shaun Chornobroff
Since its season opened on Dec. 5, the Rider men’s basketball team has been lucky enough to avoid any prolonged breaks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now at the halfway point of its conference schedule, the team has had only one game cancelled due to the pandemic, but has not been racking up wins in the meantime. Through 13 games, 10 of which have been conference games, Rider has only accumulated three wins and has a record of 3-7 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play, putting them ninth in the MAAC standings.
Despite losing a number of close games, Head Coach Kevin Baggett does not seem to think his team’s poor record is misleading of their performance.
“I think you pretty much are what your record says right,” Baggett said after a Jan. 16 loss to undefeated Siena.
Baggett also said he wants to focus on the team getting better and in the end it all comes down to success at the MAAC tournament.
“I don’t care about the record, at the end of the day the MAAC tournament is all about four games, who can win the four games… And again it’s still about getting better, getting this team better,” the two-time MAAC Coach of the Year explained.
In the weekend series against Siena, Baggett inserted sophomore Allen Powell into the starting lineup next to junior guard Dwight Murray Jr.
Murray has been stellar in his first season in Lawrenceville. The transfer from Incarnate Word has been the engine to Rider’s offense — he’s currently top-three in the MAAC in both points and assists, along with being ninth in rebounds.
Powell is a high I.Q. point guard who has a lot of potential. Before the Siena series Powell had only one start this season, a 17-point outburst in a near upset of St. John’s.
The first game against Siena the Philadelphia native was held to a shutout. But the second game against the Saints, Powell took over, leading the Broncs with a new career-high of 18 points.
“He and I met today and I just said ‘it’s go time,’’’ Baggett said of Powell after his 18-point outburst. “He was hesitant last night and I saw that. I know he’s trying to do what was right for the team, but we need him to be able to do what he did tonight and able to do this more consistently. So now we can get him on board, Rodney [Henderson Jr.] and Chris [Ings], we got more depth and we’ll be better going down the stretch.”
In two of Powell’s three starts he has proven that he can be a reliable scoring option, something Rider needs next to Murray, but the change did move Ings to the bench. The sophomore guard did struggle in his new role as a sixth-man against Siena, but anyone would be hard pressed to find a more talented bench piece in the MAAC.
Ings is averaging 8.6 points per game and is amazing at finishing through contact, not to mention he has shown an ability to come up big when his team needs him.
This Rider team has struggled, but its biggest fault has been an inability to play a complete game of basketball, something Baggett and multiple players have said the team is getting closer to fixing.
Rider has 10 games left in the regular season, plenty of time to get better and fix some of their issues. If Powell and Ings grow into their new roles, when the MAAC Tournament tips-off on Mar. 9 in Atlantic City, the Broncs won’t be an easy team to beat.
Rider continues its march towards March on Jan. 22 and 23 when it takes on the Marist Red Foxes at 7 p.m. on their home court.