Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rider 85, Manhattan 77: 5 Observations

At 10-4 in MAAC play and poised to make a run at regular season championship, Rider's Kevin Baggett may find himself in conversation for MAAC Coach of the Year honors. (Photo courtesy of Rider University Athletics)

Our traditional handful of observations and nuggets of note from Rider's 85-77 overtime win against Manhattan, one that moved Rider to 14-4 since the end of November:
  • Rider was the epitome of efficiency when it mattered.
Like all teams, the Broncs had their moments of weakness during the game, but the way they started their afternoon was anything but that. Rider made eight of their first ten shots en route to opening the game on a 19-9 run going into the 16-minute media timeout in the first half, good enough for an eye-popping 2.11 points per possession, or an offensive efficiency of 211. The Broncs ultimately finished the day at 1.15 PPP, but for the second time in three weeks against Manhattan, they shot better than 50 percent from the field against the Jaspers, posting a 53 percent clip in their return match with the reigning MAAC champions to follow a 57 percent effort on January 18 at Draddy Gymnasium.
  • Matt Lopez sliced up the Jaspers inside.
After being limited to just 11 points and eight rebounds in the first meeting between the Jaspers and Broncs, the seven-footer made up for lost time quickly, with nine points in the first six minutes on the way to a career-best 27-point outing. Many times during the day, Lopez caught the normally cerebral Manhattan defense asleep at the switch, catching entry passes and using the open real estate under the rim to his advantage. "Give him credit," Steve Masiello said afterward. "He had a terrific game, but I'd camp out too, (under the rim) give him credit. He's tough when he gets it around there. My goodness."
  • Kevin Baggett: Coach of the Year candidate?
Quite possibly, as Baggett picked up his second straight win over perhaps one of his biggest competitors to that offseason honor. Between Masiello, who has kept Manhattan firmly in the race for a regular season championship despite losing each of his three leading scorers from last season, and Monmouth's King Rice; who has turned the Hawks into an overachieving young group eager to prove they belong among the league's elite, Baggett is quietly flying under the radar and winning games, just as he did in his first season two years ago, when Rider surged to a No. 2 seed in the MAAC Tournament. Whether or not the Broncs suffer the same fate as 2013, when they lost to Fairfield by the final of 43-42 in the quarterfinals, remains to be seen, but with the coaching acumen of Baggett, one thing is certain: Rider is one tough out on any given night.
  • RaShawn Stores means a lot more to Manhattan than meets the eye.
The senior point guard has found his niche in recent games as the fourth scoring option behind the trio of Emmy Andujar, Ashton Pankey and Shane Richards, but he is fine with that, and so is the Jasper coaching staff. It's what he does off the ball that shows his true value, and it was prevalent after he fouled out in the final seconds of regulation. "He's our floor general," Masiello said of the replacement to Michael Alvarado. "He has a great value to us with intangibles and things he does, and running our offense, and obviously, he spaces the court because he's such a good shooter."
  • Just another day at the office in the MAAC.
Rider heads to Buffalo for their road trip against Canisius and Niagara beginning Friday, as the Broncs look to gain ground on conference leader Iona, who improved to 11-2 in league play with their decisive win over Marist this afternoon. For Manhattan, their four-game winning streak comes to an end, but the Jaspers throw themselves right back into the fire Friday night for a 10 p.m. tipoff against the Gaels at Draddy Gymnasium. This latest battle of arguably the conference's two biggest heavyweights has been marked significantly by the level of respect Masiello has for Tim Cluess and the way he runs his program in New Rochelle, but the Jaspers' head coach prefaced the battle with Iona with the belief that his program feels slighted in certain ways, sometimes justifiably so. "I have a lot of respect for everyone," Masiello firmly stated. "I just wish certain people would start respecting our program better on the court. I wish other people would start giving respect."

***Before any conclusions are reached, Masiello did not single anyone out in particular, so this quote was more of a venting of sorts than it was a shot at someone.***

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