By Steven Eggert
Rider is hoping for two strong games this weekend as it plays its last two regular season games of the year, both at home.
The Broncs will take on Loyola (MD) (20-7, 12-4 MAAC) tonight on ESPN2 before playing Fairfield (17-11, 12-4 MAAC) on Sunday.
The Broncs (11-18, 8-8 MAAC) have lost three straight games while competing with a shorthanded squad.
Head Coach Tommy Dempsey believes a lot of their problems have been because of the inconsistent depth and rotation.
“The last few games, we haven’t played anybody at full strength,” Dempsey said. “We had a couple guys out at Buffalo. Junior [Fortunat] and Eddie [Mitchell] got the norovirus. Then we came back and Jeff [Jones] got it, [so] we played without Jeff and Novar [Gadson]. Then we go to Albany and Brandon [Penn] had the knee issue, [Anthony] Myles breaks his hand early in the game and he’s out for the year. So we’ve been dealing with a lot. We’ve had a lot of adversity. Now all we can do at this point is to keep fighting.”
If the Broncs want to win both games, they need to play well offensively in transition. Dempsey felt they struggled when their pace was stifled.
“The last few games, teams tried to slow us down,” he said. “Canisius played zone, Niagara played zone, Albany played zone, and what they did was to try and slow our pace down. So as we look to this weekend, we want to get running. I think those two teams [Loyola and Fairfield] are two of the strongest half court defenses in the league, and I think in order to have a chance to beat them, we are going to have to use our transition offense to generate some points.”
Last time the Broncs played Loyola, Rider only scored 12 points in the first half and had to fight back the rest of the game.
“The mindset is that we need to get [a] much better start, and I know it sounds simple but we need to get off to a good start,” Dempsey said. “The atmosphere of the game on ESPN2 should be a good environment and we want to seize that. We are going to try and use the momentum of going on national television, and hopefully we get a good student crowd.”
The Broncs will play Fairfield, one of the hottest teams in the MAAC, two days later. Fairfield’s strength comes from its defense. In the last four games, the team has given up an average of only 51 points.
“[Fairfield is] probably the hottest team in the league,” Dempsey said. “They have been playing really good basketball and they’re probably one of the best defensive teams in the league. I think in order to attack that, we are going to need to spread the court against some of their traps.”
This weekend will be the last time that seniors Brandon Penn, Jeff Jones, Kevin Noon and Novar Gadson play at Alumni Gym.
Gadson realizes this, but is thinking about the team and finishing the season strong. Rider sits in fifth place, but leads Siena (12-15, 7-9 MAAC) and Niagara (12-17, 7-9 MAAC) by only one game heading into the final weekend.
“We know we have two more games in Alumni Gym, but most importantly, we want to get two wins to better our team’s standing in the MAAC Tournament,” Gadson said. “It’s no secret that we have struggled, not only the last three games, but throughout the season. The most important part about everything was that we stayed together and we are determined to finish well. It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.”