By Steve Eggert
After flying down to Jacksonville, Fla., the Broncs (1-8) are getting ready to take on the 12th ranked Florida Gators (6-2) tonight at 7 p.m.
The Broncs have not started the season on the right foot, but look to rebound with a big win against a nationally ranked opponent. The Broncs have been unable to close out games and have shown vulnerability on defense.
Head Coach Tommy Dempsey is hoping that the pressure will be alleviated since Rider will be considered major underdogs.
“We’re struggling right now as a group and we’re going to play one of the best teams in the country on the road,” Dempsey said. “But one thing I’m hoping is that we’ll go down there and be loose, because no one expects you to win. In [our] last games, we expected to win and we’ve fallen short, so we can play loose and enjoy the experience of playing in front of many people without expectations.”
These losses for the Broncs have brought down their confidence, but Dempsey would like to see some wins in the near future to bring back morale.
“We’re not as good as we thought we were, and then we lost some games early which have stripped us of some confidence,” he said. “We need wins to get our confidence back, and once we can get a couple of wins, we can go from there.”
The team has struggled this year on defense, giving up an average of 81.4 points per game. Another problem Rider has faced throughout the year is the failure to close out games in the second half. This week at practice, the improvementDempsey wanted to see more than anything was that everyone on the team stayed focused, especially on the defensive side of the court.
“We’ve struggled defensively; there is no denying that,” Dempsey said. “To fix that, we not only are going all-out having practices, but focused practices. Sometimes you can’t fix every problem, but you start with things that are really hurting us, and try and get better.”
After coming home from Florida, the Broncs will have another difficult task on their hands in the form of the Princeton Tigers (4-5). The Tigers won the Ivy League Title last season and qualified for an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Rider-Princeton matchup will mark the first time in the Broncs’ history that they’ve hosted the Tigers at Alumni Gym. Dempsey believes that both will have extra motivation to try to win this game.
“I think that game will be one where both teams will really want it,” Dempsey said. “We haven’t had them come to Rider in the history of the program, and there’s excitement in the fan base. I’ll make it clear to the team how important this game is, and I think it’ll take on a little bit of an extra level of excitement.”
The one common trait that Florida and Princeton possess is size, as both of these squads have players with heights of 6’10” and over. Dempsey believes the use of the 6’10” Nigerian, junior Dera Nd-Ezuma, will help them with the rebounding and defense in the paint.
“Dera is going to have to become a bigger part of the team because we are struggling to defend the rim and rebound the ball,” Dempsey said. “So what we’ve done hasn’t been good enough because we’re too small. It was good to see [Dera] play a lot the other day against Marist, and part of the development of the team will be to put him in. Hopefully he will become a force for us in the middle, and it’ll help us become a better team.”
Though this team is off to an unexpected 1-8 start, the Broncs still have two more months and over 20 games left to go in the season. While they are in a slump right now, Dempsey hopes that his team can quickly rebound from these first nine games.
“I think our backs are against the wall now, and that’s when your character is really tested,” Dempsey said. “We have to either respond and we’ll turn it around, or get really down, lose confidence and this will be a long year. We’re at a bit of a tipping point here already. It can turn into a really long season, or into a story of slow start, then rebound, then fought back to have a good season. There’s a lot of season left. We have experienced players and staff, good character, the kids work hard. It’s just about focusing where we are falling short.”