By Steven Eggert
Rider basketball Head Coach Kevin Baggett got his first look at his team in an exhibition game on Saturday and defeated the Division III University of Scranton Royals 76-59.
Despite the win, the team struggled in specific areas throughout the game, but before addressing them, I’ll give credit where it’s due.
The Scranton Royals, who rank 18 in NCAA Division III, competed well throughout the game. They were well coached and proved that playing a Division III school isn’t cakewalk. Scranton made the first half competitive by only trailing 39-35 at halftime.
For Rider, there were a few things that have to be improved before Friday’s first home regular season game against Robert Morris.
The team’s inability to make free throws was a huge problem in the game. In total, the Broncs attempted 31 foul shots, but only made 15 of them totaling 48 percent.
For key players, Junior Danny Stewart went 4-7, Sophomore Junior Fortunat was 3-7, Senior Jon Thompson went 1-3, and Junior Nurideen Lindsey went 1-4. They are four of the five starters in the lineup and failed to take advantage of those scoring opportunities. That scares me considering Rider’s scoring has ranked top five in the MAAC the last four seasons, and free throws are a crucial part of scoring.
The Broncs also struggled finishing plays near the rim when they had chances. In the first half, the team missed 27 shots and 11 were on layups. I understand that if a player is guarded well, layups can be challenging, but some of the misses were wide-open looks at the basket.
Stewart and Fortunat combined to miss four straight layups just over a minute into the game. At their height and position, layups contribute to their point totals each game, and they have to take advantage of easy scoring opportunities.
From the guards, junior Anthony Myles, Thompson, and Lindsey collectively shot 11-30 from the field and turned the ball over eight times.
Myles and Thompson were trying to adjust to being more involved in the offense compared to last season when they had three seniors who contributed significantly to Rider’s scoring.
In his first game since transferring from St. Johns, Lindsey ended the game with 10 points, five rebounds and five assists, but the stats that stand out are four turnovers and three missed layups. He forced some passes to teammates and looked a little out-of-sync trying to adjust to Rider’s style of offense.
Another aspect of the game the Broncs struggled with is defense. The team looked lackadaisical at times and its weaknesses were exposed.
The best example was when they gave up a 10-3 scoring run to Scranton in the last five minutes of the first half. The problem was the Royal always found the open man left unguarded by the Rider defense. The Royals would take advantage of open shots and as a result, they only trailed the Broncs by four at halftime.
In the second half, the team took smarter shots, looked more focused, and made a higher percentage of shots they attempted. As a result, the team’s field goal percentage went from 32.5 percent in the first half, to 56.5 percent in the second.
There is a lot to work on before Friday’s game against Robert Morris. Baggett looks forward to addressing his team’s struggles through practicing and watching film.
One thing Rider fans have to remember is the Broncs have seven new players and a new coaching staff. There is still a full season to play and time will tell what the identity of this team will be.