For a great regular season under the tutelage of a rookie head coach, the Rider Broncs men’s basketball team earned a second chance to compete for a championship, according to a tournament selection committee. They will visit the University of Hartford Hawks in the first round of the 32-team CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
“It was actually an easy choice to have Rider in the Tournament,” said Riley Wallace, chairman of the CIT Tournament’s Selection Committee. “The Broncs finished second in the MAAC. [Coach] Kevin Baggett did an outstanding job this season of transitioning a more defensive-oriented team and the end result was a terrific regular season.”
The team that won five games in a row to close out its regular season was not the same team that showed up in the MAAC Conference Tournament on March 9th. In its Quarterfinal game against the Fairfield Stags, Rider had only one more point (14) than turnovers in the first half. For the game, they shot 29% from the field and 61% from the line; both are below the Broncs’ averages on the season (43.5% from the field and 67.2% from the free-throw line).
To say that they never got into a rhythm offensively would be overstating the obvious. After watching a replay of the game, Rider’s half-court offense stagnated in part because Fairfield forced the Broncs into taking ill-advised shots. Rider just never seemed comfortable and, as a result, neither its passing nor its shooting was crisp. When Rider was able to get the ball in the low post to forward Junior Fortunat, the Stags fouled him knowing, percentage-wise, he was Rider’s worst free-throw shooter. That strategy worked for the Stags as Fortunat finished the game shooting 2-of-6 from the line.
If Rider is going to have any chance in this game against a young Hartford team, they need to take care of the ball. That’s number one. Secondly, Rider must use the height mismatch it has in the backcourt to its advantage. Starting guards Nurideen Lindsey (6’3), Jonathan Thompson (6’4), and Anthony Myles (6’5) are taller than either of Hartford’s starting guards, Corban Wroe (6’1) and Yolonzo Moore II (6’2). Rider has to set the tone early and penetrate the lane with its guards. When Hartford’s defense collapses, the Broncs may be able to find 6’10 center Dera Nd-Ezuma on the weak side for the slam and maybe a trip to the foul line. Nd-Ezuma’s free-throw shooting might just be the difference in this game.