Three Thoughts: Rider 68, Saint Peter’s 55

Saint Peter’s coach John Dunne had tried yelling, stomping his feet, making nearly wholesale substitutions, calling time outs, giving people the silent treatment, and who knows what else I couldn’t see from the other end of the court in Saturday afternoon’s MAAC clash with Rider.

With seven minutes remaining, Rider’s Teddy Okereafor drove the lane, lost the ball, then it caromed off two different sets of legs and bounded toward teammate Jimmy Taylor in the left corner. Taylor decided to pick it up and drill a three-pointer. Why not? Everything else was going the Broncs’ way.

By then, Rider was up 24 in a game that it dominated from the opening tip against a Saint Peter’s team that looked like a MAAC contender when it won at Quinnipiac a week ago. And all Dunne could do was sit and shake his head. The final ended up being only 68-55, but that doesn’t begin to tell the dominance of Rider (10-6, 4-1), who has now won six straight and eight of nine, the only loss in that span being at Iona. Are they a contender? Well, they have a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses that Monmouth has, and the two meet on Friday night.

But the Broncs are probably the hottest team in the conference right now and certainly have to be in the discussion.

Here are my thoughts from Alumni Gym, where this recap won’t be nearly as colorful as the now standard Rider one:

Rider sophomore Jimmie Taylor drives for a transition layup against Saint Peter's.
Rider sophomore Jimmie Taylor drives for a transition layup against Saint Peter’s.

1. Keying on someone against Rider is useless – Matt Lopez came in as the leading scorer (11.3 ppg), but three players – Okereafor (10.6), Taylor (9.9), and Zedric Sadler (9.5) – are within two points of that. Even when you look at usage rates, the Broncs don’t have a player who ranks as a “Major Contributor” in KenPom (I wonder how many Division I teams you can say that about), and the four players just mentioned are remarkably similar in usage rates as well (Lopez 22.6%, Okereafor 22.0%, Taylor 20.7%, Sadler 20.0%). Xavier Lundy got only his fourth start of the season Saturday, and his usage rate? 23.2%, certainly in the margin for error.

Kevin Baggett also gets significant contributions from a few other players that seem to fit, including Lehigh transfer Anthony D’Orazio, who plays the Max DiLeo role, diving after anything on the ground and being able to hit big shots if the need arises. It’s a veteran team, with Okereafor (VCU) and Lopez (Utah St.-La Salle) joining D’Orazio as transfers.

Some subscribe to the “need a star to take over” theory, but I don’t think that’s a necessity, and maybe Rider will prove that. It’s a veteran team, and that can often supercede the “star” prerequisite.

As if on cue, Taylor led the Broncs with 15 points, while Lopez and Sadler (who usually comes off the bench) had 14 each on Saturday.

“We’re getting contributions from everybody,” Baggett said. “It was a team effort, and I’m really happy to be 5-0 at home.”

Rider's Junior Fortunat throws down a two-hand slam against Saint Peter's.
Rider’s Junior Fortunat throws down a two-hand slam against Saint Peter’s.

2. Rider has some big guys – Matt Lopez is a legitimate 7-footer and really made Quadir Welton look bad at times, and Welton – at 6’8” – has done that to other people in the MAAC already this season, including holding his own at Quinnipiac, so that’s saying something. But the Broncs are a pretty average rebounding team (145th offensive – 32.0%; 136th defensive – 30.2%), even if Lopez ranks 90th nationally in defensive rebounding (22.3%).

Where the size helps them more is the length in their zone, allowing the Broncs to be 40th in defensive turnover rate (22.5%) and 42nd in steals (11.5%). Sadler and Okereafor (I mean, he did go to VCU, duh) are close in steals, but Sadler now has 15 steals in five MAAC games and a higher steal rate.

Unfortunately, especially with Lopez, Rider is not the most mobile team, which means they do need to slow things down at times, but they did have some success early in possessions Saturday.

“When everybody is on the same page, and everybody is scoring, we are tough to stop,” Taylor said. “We have a lot of people who can score. There is a lot of talent on this team. On any given night we can have four or five guys in double digits.”

3. Probably an aberration, but some worrying signs for Saint Peter’s – It was the second straight game that the Peacocks (8-9, 2-4) ran into a buzzsaw, having been relegated to a similar fate Wednesday at Draddy Gym against Manhattan (although they did mount a fairly spirited comeback in the second half). These things happen from time to time, but it is a bit concerning that they did not respond off that loss with a better effort Saturday. Dunne had to call two time outs in the first seven minutes, while Marvin Dominique and Desi Washington – their two leaders and best players – did not appear to be on the same page for much of the game, with the frustration obvious by the second half.

Both have had their struggles of late, and – although Dominique led the Peacocks with 13 points – combined to go 5-18 from the field Saturday.
So Saint Peter’s will surely play better soon, but the Peacocks are 2-4 in the MAAC and their schedule going forward is: at Monmouth, Manhattan, Quinnipiac, at Siena, Rider, at Iona. Not many easy wins there I’m afraid.

“Rider played really well,” Dunne said. “They did what they were supposed to do on their home court. They took it to us and they were the aggressors.”

Bonus. Rider and free throws – The Broncs are currently 340th nationally in free throw shooting (60.6%), some of which is Lopez shooting at 50%. They need to get better there. However, somewhat amazingly, Rider is 351st and dead last in the country in free throw % defense (75.9%), which they really cant do much about. Except maybe work on your heckling, guys.

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