By Rob Rose
Despite leading for the first 18 minutes of the game, the men’s basketball team lost its season opener on the road against the American Athletic Conference preseason favorite, Central Florida (UCF), 84-70.
A 13-0 run over the final 2:39 of first half allowed the Knights to take a 43-34 lead into halftime. UCF opened the second half on a 12-4 spurt to increase its lead to 17 points. Its advantage swelled to 24 for the largest lead of the game later in the half.
The Knights featured 7-foot-6-inch, 300-pound center Tacko Fall, who stood nine inches taller than the Broncs’ largest player, junior center Tyere Marshall. Fall, a projected NBA draft pick, and the UCF frontcourt blocked 10 Broncs’ shots in the contest.
In preparation for the matchup with Fall, Rider turned to a normal household item to replicate the UCF center’s size and shot-blocking ability – a broomstick.
“We were just trying to do anything we could,” said Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “Give our guys credit, I thought they went after him and attacked him as much as they could.”
Junior guard Stevie Jordan, who led the MAAC in assists per game for the second year in a row last season with 5.9, had eight points, four assists and three rebounds in the loss. Jordan ended 2017 on the All-MAAC Second Team after averaging 12.6 ppg and 1.6 steals per game, which was third in the conference. He was named to the All-MAAC Preseason First Team.
Although he played only 18 minutes and fouled out of the game, sophomore forward Dimencio Vaughn led the Broncs in scoring with 14 points. Vaughn was 6-for-9 from the field and added five rebounds.
Vaughn joined Jordan on the Preseason All-MAAC First Team after a dominant season. Vaughn earned All-MAAC First Team honors after he posted top-10 averages in points, rebounds and assists per game in the MAAC with 16, 6.7 and 1.8, respectively.
2017-18 MAAC Sixth Player of the Year sophomore forward Frederick Scott also contributed against UCF. Scott, who was named to the Preseason All-MAAC Second Team after averaging 12.8 ppg and 6.5 rebounds per game during an All-MAAC Third Team campaign, scored 11 points and grabbed a team-high six rebounds.
Rider returned 95 percent of its scoring from last season, and its entire starting lineup, which features four Preseason All-MAAC players. The Broncs also added a pair of Division I transfers to a team that finished as the regular season champions last year.
Junior guards Kimar Williams and Ahmad Gilbert, who were teammates at Constitution High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, joined the Broncs from Florida International (FIU) and Minnesota, respectively. Williams added four points and four assists while Gilbert connected twice from beyond the arc and scored nine points.
The entire nine-man rotation the Broncs will play this season got minutes against the Knights, including freshman forward Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson. He was the No. 45-ranked power forward recruit in the nation and a three-star recruit, according to Rivals.com.
The game was the second-ever meeting between the teams and the first since Dec. 17, 1986.
Rider had a long break until its next game following the defeat. The Broncs’ next game is their home opener against Coppin State on Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. The game can be streamed on ESPN3.
“We just want to move on and focus on the next matchup,” said Marshall. “It’s good that we’ve got some time off so we can watch film of whatever we did wrong and get better.”
Follow Rob Rose on Twitter for the latest news on Rider men’s basketball.