Rider Still In Solid Shape Without Matt Lopez

When Rider senior Matt Lopez was named to the first team All-MAAC on Monday, head coach Kevin Baggett and his staff celebrated.

Their celebration was so audible that it could be heard throughout the conference call, with their unmuted line. However, they will have to try to win the MAAC championship without the 7′ senior who missed the team’s final three games after sustaining a season-ending ACL tear against Quinnpiac.

The Broncs won two of their final three games and appear to have adjusted quickly to losing a big man that Baggett once said was their best difference making frontcourt player since Jason Thompson.

“It’s the same mindset we’ve had all year long, we’re going to go try to play each game the same way we’ve played every game throughout the season,” Baggett said. “Our guys understand the next man up, that’s the way we’ve handled things.”

“We’ve had injuries all year long, starting all the way back in July and we’ve just been able to manage and persevere throughout the year with those injuries.”

Sophomore Xavier Lundy has stepped up in the absence of Lopez, the 6’7″ forward scored a combined 31 points in the team’s last two games, wins over Monmouth and Marist. They have also been aided by a healthy Zedric Sadler all season, who has provided plenty of help defensively for the Broncs.

“When you need an energy guy to come off the bench, whether he’s scoring or whether it be just to get at guys and go out and set the tone defensively, he does that,” Baggett said. “The biggest thing for us, the reason why I’m happy for him is that he was hurting on and off last year, in practice a great deal. That’s the reason, also on top of Matt Lopez and Teddy [Okearafor] making first and second team, he’s been a big reason why we’re where we’re at as well.”

The last time Rider was the league’s second seed back in 2013, they ran into Fairfield who defeated them 43-42. They will hope to sustain a run in Albany that will now go through Saint Peter’s; a team they swept on the season, but haven’t seen since the end of January.

“I don’t even know if there’s any such thing as favorable matchups,” Baggett said. “There’s no one in this league that can’t win these three games, so it’s just a matter of who’s playing well, sometimes it comes down to matchups in our league, it’ll be interesting.”

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He 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.

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