By Rob Rose
The men’s basketball team is off to its best start in 20 years and has some hardware to go with it.
The Broncs won the title for their division at the Las Vegas Invitational with a 94-80 victory over Hampton on Nov. 24. Rider also defeated George Washington, a prominent Atlantic 10 program, and California Irvine to win the tournament.
Rider, at 5-1 overall, currently has the best record out of all MAAC teams, although conference play doesn’t begin for a few weeks.
Freshman guard Jordan Allen led the scoring with 22 points, including four three-pointers in the victory over Hampton. For the second consecutive week, Allen was named MAAC Rookie of the Week. Allen is averaging a team-best 17.8 ppg and is shooting 46.8 percent from the three-point line.
The Broncs began the tournament with a 67-65 victory at George Washington. It was Rider’s first win over an Atlantic 10 team since it defeated La Salle in December 2010.
Twice during the game it looked like the Colonials were pulling away, but a pair of runs by the Broncs kept the game close. A 9-0 spurt in the first half was led by a three-pointer from sophomore guard Stevie Jordan, and a spin move and lay-up from freshman forward Dimencio Vaughn.
Late in the second half, Rider trailed by seven before going on an 11-1 run to take the lead. Allen hit a pair of three-pointers and a lay-up while freshman forward Frederick Scott added another three-pointer, giving the Broncs the lead.
With the game tied at 65 with under a minute to play, Scott drove to the basket and finished a lay-up, putting Rider up 67-65.
“I just decided to stay aggressive,” he said. “I knew my team needed me. It was open, so I just took it.”
George Washington would have one final try after sophomore forward Tyere Marshall missed the front end of a one-and-one, but the three-point attempt at the buzzer by Jair Bolden was off the mark.
Scott finished the game with his second double-double of the season, scoring a team-high 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
“I just keep yelling at [Scott], ‘Be aggressive. Go after guys. If you run them over, run them over. Just lower your head and go at them. You’re a talented player,’” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett.
On Nov. 23, Rider met up with California Irvine at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
After a quick start by the Anteaters, a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last year, the Broncs answered with a 9-0 run to capture the lead. Rider jumped out to a 13-point advantage in the first half, only to see California Irvine respond with a 13-2 spurt of its own to trim the lead.
Jordan hit a jumper at the halftime buzzer, putting the Broncs ahead going into the locker room.
During the second half, Scott took over, scoring 18 of his career-high 22 points, including nine points from the free throw line. Scott also had nine rebounds in the game and two assists.
After averaging 18 ppg and 7.3 rebounds per game and scoring a game-winning lay-up, Scott was named MAAC Player of the Week on Nov. 27 by collegesportsmadness.com.
Allen contributed 19 points in the contest and connected from beyond the arc three times. In all three games of the Las Vegas Invitational, Allen hit at least three times from three-point range.
Behind a dominant second half by Scott, the Broncs held onto their lead and closed out the game with a 90-82 victory.
“I’ll be honest with you, they’re just balling,” said Baggett. “These guys, it doesn’t matter who they play. They don’t care. They’re just going to show up every night.”
The following night, Rider met up with a familiar foe, the Hampton Pirates, in the championship. The Broncs defeated the Pirates 90-75 in their season opener on Nov. 10.
The second matchup of the season played out much like the first, with Hampton leading in the first half before an effort by Rider closed the gap.
“[Hampton] really got after us and they knocked us on our heels for a minute and it took us a minute to regroup. Once we started to regroup, I just felt like the game would be ours and once we got the lead down to one at half,” said Baggett. “I said to them, ‘Fellas, we were tied at half last time we played them at our place and we came back and ended up winning by 15. So here we are again.’’’
A 21-5 spurt gave Hampton a 10-point lead early in the game. The Broncs trimmed down the lead by scoring 14 of the final 19 points of the first to trail by a 42-41 score at halftime.
Jordan tied the game with a free throw on the first possession of the second half but Hampton regained the lead on the following trip down the floor. A dunk by Scott and a lay-up by Vaughn sparked a 9-0 run by Rider and it never trailed again in the game, winning 94-80.
After a four-game winning streak following the loss to No. 21 Xavier, the Broncs’ record sits at 5-1. The team is off to its best start since the 1997-98 season, when Rider started 8-1 in its first season in the MAAC.
Rider’s next game is a nationally televised matchup against Providence on Nov. 29. The 7 p.m. contest will air on Fox Sports Network.