By Shaun Chornobroff
The Rider men’s basketball team had 12 new faces heading into an uncertain 2020-21 season, but one of its few known producers was sophomore guard Christian Ings, who started 18 games as a freshman last season.
But Head Coach Kevin Baggett relies on his guards and he was going to need more than one guard to produce for his team to be successful this season.
“In basketball terminology I call them our quarterbacks because they are an extension of the head coach. You need them thinking with the same mindset that I have and leading with the same mindset that I have,” Baggett said in September.
Luckily for Baggett and his Broncs, guard play has turned into its greatest strength early in the 2020 season.
Ings has taken a step forward, averaging 12.7 points per game in the first three games of his sophomore campaign.
Philadelphia native Allen Powell has gone from little used reserve to much needed spark plug off the bench and someone Baggett has repeatedly praised. In his lone start against St. John’s in place of an injured Ings, the sophomore scored 17 points in a near upset of the Red Storm.
And then there’s the two transfers.
Rodney Henderson Jr., a graduate transfer from Cal State Northridge, looks like one of the best sharpshooters in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and one would be hard pressed to find a newcomer across the country who had as big an impact on their team as Incarnate Word transfer Dwight Murray Jr. The junior has been the Broncs leader and may be on his way to an All-MAAC selection, averaging 18 points, 7.8 rebounds and six assists in his first four games in a Rider uniform.
“I’m encouraged we have really good guards,” Baggett said after the Dec. 8 loss against St. John’s. “We got guards that will help us be able to compete in the [MAAC], so I’m encouraged with that because obviously our league is about the guards at the end of the day.”
Rider’s fearsome foursome in the backcourt was forced to face another dynamic group of four when it faced Rick Pitino and the Iona Gaels on Dec. 18 in the team’s home opener at Alumni Gym.
Iona’s group of guards includes two members of the preseason All-MAAC second team in seniors Asante Gist and Isaiah Ross, who was averaging 21.4 points per game heading into the matchup with Rider and two ascending, yet threatening contributors in Ryan Myers and Berrick JeanLouis.
Rider’s backcourt was unable to find its groove in the game, as the Broncs ended up dropping their second consecutive game, their record slipping to 1-4 after the 70-56 loss.
“We do have good guards, we just didn’t play well today, none of our guards played well,” Baggett said after the loss.
Henderson led all Rider guards in scoring with 13 points, with all of them coming in the first half of play. Ings found himself in foul trouble down the stretch and was only able to contribute eight points and three assists. Powell was held scoreless in 20 minutes of play and Murray had his worst game in his tenure at Rider.
The man who seemed set to take the MAAC by storm was only able to muster four points, converting on 22.2% of his shots on the night.
Iona’s duo of Gist and Ross was always a step ahead and much more successful on the night, combining for 35 points on 13-of-25 from the field.
JeanLouis only scored eight points, but was a more than efficient secondary option, as he shot 50% on his six shots during the game.
Myers who started in place of Gist struggled, only scoring a single point on the night, but the freshman’s struggles were more than cancelled out by his veteran leaders.
Rider looks to steal the second game of its weekend series with Iona on Dec.19 at 7 p.m. back at Alumni Gym.