Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Year In Review: Rider

Kevin Baggett's second season may not have been as rewarding as his first, but that hasn't stopped Rider coach from looking ahead even after losing Daniel Stewart and Anthony Myles. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

In his first season as head coach, Kevin Baggett enjoyed a pleasant stream of success with Rider, coming from the middle of the MAAC standings to win 19 games and emerge from a grueling regular season with the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The Broncs were surprisingly defeated by Fairfield in their MAAC tournament opener that season, but with a strong core led by Anthony Myles and Daniel Stewart coming back, the future looked promising in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

A 2-4 start did little to quell the optimism that reached a crescendo with wins in five of the Broncs' next six contests, including their first three in MAAC play before a 62-47 loss to Jimmy Patsos and Siena at the Times Union Center in January. Rider dropped to 5-4 in league play after a defeat on the road to eventual conference champion Manhattan, but jumped right back in the mix for the league lead with three consecutive wins to position the Broncs at 8-4, two games behind regular season titleholder Iona at the time. Sadly, it was as high as Rider would get going into Springfield, where the pride of southern New Jersey entered the MAAC tournament having dropped seven of their final eight to conclude a 13-16 regular season.

Rider managed to win the game that started the proceedings on the men's side at the MassMutual Center, a 71-60 victory over in-state rival Monmouth that saw one last performance of a lifetime from Daniel Stewart, whose 25-point, 9-rebound tour de force served as his lasting memory in a Broncs uniform two days before his career would come to a close in a 94-71 defeat at the hands of Iona.

Overall, led by Stewart, whose 15 points and six-plus rebounds per game helped make the motor run along with Myles (16.2 points per game) and his 38 percent three-point shooting, the Broncs played much better than their record let on, with freshman guard Jimmie Taylor a major reason why. Entrusted with the keys to the Rider offense as the season went on, the MAAC All-Rookie honoree; and arguably a worthy Rookie of the Year had it not gone to Marist's Khallid Hart, responded in a veteran manner, averaging 12.1 points per game to back up a blistering 47 percent clip from three-point range.

Taylor and soon-to-be junior backcourt partner Zedric Sadler, who emerged as one of the Broncs' more reliable ball handlers, will anchor the guards next season, while wings Kahlil Thomas and Shawn Valentine will no doubt improve off their freshman and sophomore campaigns, respectively. The additions of former VCU guard Teddy Okereafor and Columbia expatriate forward Skylar Scrivano will add to the Rider depth next year, and seven-foot center Matt Lopez is eligible after sitting out for his year in residence following a transfer from Utah State. Those three arrivals will supplant the losses of Stewart and Myles, and when blended with the incumbents Baggett has coming back, will once again keep the Broncs forwardly placed among the MAAC going into 2014-15.

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