Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Surging Rider set to begin MAAC Tournament against Manhattan

Jimmie Taylor leads Rider into MAAC Tournament on hot streak that Broncs hope will continue Thursday night against Manhattan. (Photo by John Blaine/The Trentonian)

Rider has been all over the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference leaderboard, starting the league slate with wins in four of their first five contests, including a stirring overtime victory on New Year's Eve at Monmouth, before dropping nine of their next twelve games to find themselves closer to the bottom of the pack than to the regular season champion Hawks.

The campaign was ultimately salvaged by a timely three-game win streak against the likes of Iona, Manhattan and Quinnipiac, a roll that the Broncs are intent on continuing as they open the MAAC Tournament Thursday night as the sixth seed in Albany, entertaining No. 11 seed Manhattan in a late-night soiree where a quarterfinal matchup with the reigning champion Gaels will await the winner.

"I'm happy with the way we finished up our regular season, winning the last three," head coach Kevin Baggett assessed as Rider brings a newfound offensive firepower to the Times Union Center, averaging 92 points per game over their final six skirmishes in the regular season, topping the century mark twice and amassing 99 points against Quinnipiac in Sunday's final tuneup before the postseason. "Now we're looking forward to going up against a really tough Manhattan team. I know Steve (Masiello, Manhattan's head coach) will have those guys ready to play us as he always does."

The Broncs split their two prior affairs with the Jaspers this season, losing a 76-73 battle at Draddy Gymnasium on January 13 before evening the score with an emphatic 93-82 victory in Lawrenceville on February 22, one that was earned going away on the strength of a sensational second-half effort to overcome a nine-point halftime deficit. While the results have been equal on both ends of the spectrum, one thing has not, that being Rider's ability to stop junior forward Zane Waterman. After giving up 35 points in the first meeting between the two schools, then 30 in the second, it is no secret that Waterman is a prime objective in Baggett's game plan.

"Some guys, they feel more comfortable playing against other teams," he said of Waterman's penchant for having career nights at the Broncs' expense. "He obviously feels comfortable playing against us. We just have to do a better job of limiting his points."

"Take nothing away from him, but if we're going to have a chance to win this game, it's probably going to start with (defending) him, and then (Zavier) Turner as well," Baggett further expounded. "I know Steve's not having the year he'd like to have, but that's a good team, they're all good players. We've got to do a good job first and foremost on Waterman."

Before Rider even thinks about a potential third meeting with Iona, there remains not only the specter of the Jaspers' impressive tournament resume that stares them directly in the face, but also the mental aspect of a game that will most likely tip off after 10 p.m., an unconventional start time to prepare for. And while Manhattan has experience in what has come to be billed as the "MAAC After Dark" game, now set to begin their tournament stint after 9 p.m. for the fifth time in Masiello's six-year tenure, the Broncs are new to the night owl life in postseason play. Nevertheless, Baggett shrugged off the possibility of the late start influencing the outcome, citing it was more mental than anything else.

"I think all the teams here are ready to play, to figure out if they're going to continue on or if they're going to be over," he said. "We're no different. Our guys are excited. We have some momentum, but we've had some momentum going into the tournament before and lost."

And as far as solving Manhattan, two words have been the theme of the pregame conversations: Patient defense.

"We've got to be disciplined," Baggett adamantly stated. "They scored a ton of points in the first half against us (in February), which is not what I wanted to see, and we have to do a better job defensively. That's something I've been preaching down this stretch and then going into this tournament, obviously you need to score. But it's going to come down to getting some stops, and we have to do that more consistently."

No comments:

Post a Comment