Kevin Baggett and Rider open MAAC slate with consecutive home games against top-level teams in Fairfield and Siena. (Photo by Rider University Athletics)
By Brandon Scalea (@brandonscalea)
Following a 13-win season and quarterfinal exit from the MAAC tournament last year, Rider can now look ahead to the full 2016-17 schedule.
The Broncs’ first MAAC game of the season will also be their home opener, when they play host to Fairfield on December 1. The Stags are coming off an impressive season last year that took them one win away from playing for a MAAC title. Head coach Sydney Johnson guided the team to 12 conference wins and a fourth-place finish. Rider will play the second game of that series on February 13 in Bridgeport.
Rider’s second MAAC contest will also be played at Alumni Gym, when Siena comes to town for a Monday night game on December 5. The Saints swept the series last year, using a second-half surge to win at home and with a dominant performance on the road in front of a packed Whiteout crowd and an ESPN3 audience. Siena is expected to have a good run in the conference this season, so Rider is lucky to have that early game in its own building. The Broncs will head up to the Times Union Center in Albany to meet the Saints again on January 17. After the home Siena game, the Broncs will have a pretty grueling stretch of non-conference games when they’ll play five times in 14 days, featuring a home matchup with Drexel December 16 and a road contest with UMass on December 28.
Three days later, Rider will head to West Long Branch for a New Year’s Eve meeting with its biggest rival and defending MAAC regular-season champion, Monmouth. If the new year is going to start happily for the Broncs, they’ll need to find a way to shut down 2015-16 Player of the Year Justin Robinson and Rookie of the Year Micah Seaborn.
Monmouth won all three contests with Rider last season, including the quarterfinal of the MAAC tournament. At Monmouth last season, the Broncs were embarrassed by 21 points as the Hawks officially clinched the No. 1 seed. Two weeks earlier, the pair met at Alumni Gym and, well, everyone knows how that one ended. The Broncs self-destructed late in the second half and Robinson hit a game-winning three in the final seconds. The second installment of the rivalry this season will be at Alumni Gym for a Monday night showdown on February 6.
Sophomore point guard Kealen Ives said the team really isn’t going to circle a game on the calendar as the most important one, but the Broncs will definitely head to Monmouth with a chip on their shoulder.
“We’re definitely looking forward to that one,” he said. “We’re not worried about the fact that it’s on New Year’s Eve, it’s still going to be Rider versus Monmouth. We look at them as a team that beat us three times last season and a team that took away our season, so we want to go up there and beat them.”
That game won’t be the only big one the Broncs play the first week of February, as Iona will come to Lawrenceville the Friday night before, February 3. That meeting with the Gaels is slated to be on ESPNU. Last season, the Broncs were beaten by nine at Iona, before picking up a surprising 79-75 win against them at home. It was the first time in the last six tries the Broncs were able to knock off the Gaels.
Rider will return to New Rochelle on February 19 for the second game of that series.
Notably, the Broncs will also play against their “hOURglass rival” Saint Peter’s twice in eight days. The Peacocks will come to Alumni Gym for a Sunday game on January 15, before Rider heads up to the Yanitelli Center on January 23. The teams split the series last year.
Other notable games for the Broncs feature three more already scheduled to be televised nationally on ESPNU: at Marist on January 6, at Manhattan on January 13, and at home against Canisius February 17. All of those games are on Friday nights. One can assume at least one of the meetings with Monmouth will also find a slot on ESPNU.
Ives thinks the team is getting so much national exposure this year because of the high-quality games it played in last year.
“I think we’re playing in so many televised games because we played really well against Maryland last year and always played well against the best teams,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t have a great season as far as wins, but every game, especially the ones at home, were great games.”
The 2016-17 journey begins at Hampton on November 11.