After a second place finish during his first season, Kevin Baggett’s Rider Broncs appeared ready to capture that momentum and contend for a top-five seed in MAAC play in 2014.
The team showed the ability to score at times, but could not put their defense together to start the season. When they got their defense right, their offense collapsed. Rider lost seven of their final eight regular season conference games and finished under .500 in MAAC play for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
“We certainly underachieved for sure,” Baggett said. “It starts with me.”
The second-year head coach had to adjust to putting freshman Jimmie Taylor into the fire quickly at point guard to replace the heart and soul of the 2013 team: Jon Thompson. Taylor started every game and proved capable in the point guard role, making the MAAC’s All-Rookie Team.
“I certainly think he can continue to develop his shooting,” Baggett said. “I think, just from the standpoint of the game slowing down for him a little bit certainly would help because the game was going too fast for him at times and he wasn’t as much of a distributor as I would like him to be.”
“He can score and I certainly want him to continue to do that, but I thought there were times that he didn’t see things on the court in terms of seeing from the open guys. At times I do think understanding and having the experience of playing a year at the point guard position will certainly help him. He knows he needs to get stronger which he’ll do.”
Taylor ranked second on the team in assists, behind Zedric Sadler’s 89 assists, though to say that the sophomore captain struggled to stay healthy all season would be an understatement. Sadler battled injuries, to the point that Baggett said he was never sure he would have Sadler at a practice on any day of the season.
While seniors Daniel Stewart and Anthony Myles shined, their counterparts could not provide enough help. Junior Fortunat and freshman Khalil Thomas struggled to hold down the inside for the Broncs, but will be counted on to be key parts to the future. Thomas grabbed fewer than four rebounds per game and scored 6.2 points per game during conference play.
For a team that ranked ninth in the country at the end of the season in three-point field goal percentage, the Broncs offense struggled to score later in conference play, an unanticipated problem for Baggett’s team.
“I really can’t put my finger on it,” Baggett said of why the offense struggled after the defense turned it around. “I couldn’t really figure out we just couldn’t really defend the way that we needed to. We struggled early to be able to keep the ball in front of us, but yet we could score. We continued to get better with it Jimmie Taylor got better, Khalil Thomas got better because he struggled with it at first as well and we got better defensively, we just we struggled to score and we went through some growing pains.”
Over the last two seasons, Rider has become a team that was elite on defense in Baggett’s first season and good offensively in his second season. As he enters his third year as head coach, he said he would like to try and find the balance and get to the style of play of getting up-and-down he hoped to get when he took the job in 2012.
Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.