Rider currently holds sole possession of first place in the MAAC, and a major reason why is the play of its young core players. The Broncs have now reached 10 league wins in the quickest span since the 2007-08 season despite 75% of the team’s minutes coming from underclassmen.
Sophomores Stevie Jordan and Tyere Marshall, along with freshmen Jordan Allen, Dimencio Vaughn, and Frederick Scott, have formed a nucleus which already has Rider competing for a league title, and in position to enjoy continued success for many more years to come.
Jordan was a unanimous selection to last season’s All-MAAC Rookie team with a league-leading assist average of 5.6 apg. Thus far, he has exceeded all expectations garnered from his freshman campaign and once again leads the MAAC with a 6.2 apg average while increasing his scoring to 13.0 ppg from 11.7 a year ago.
“[Stevie] is the leader, he’s the heart and soul.” Head coach Kevin Baggett said of Jordan after the team’s most recent win at Quinnipiac. “Stevie gets it, and he’s going to keep us under control and make sure he gets the right guy the right shot.”
The freshman trio of Allen, Vaughn, and Scott has made up the backbone of Rider’s success this season, but each of the three has followed a unique path to the court.
Allen signed with the Broncs as a senior out of Delaware’s Dover High School in 2016, but was ruled academically ineligible for the 2016-17 campaign. Unable to play in any games, Allen instead put time in out of the spotlight to improve both his grades and basketball acumen.
“It gave him a year to practice with us, to get a year of college under his belt,” Baggett said of Allen’s time on the bench. “The thing about Jordan that I appreciate is he’s a competitor and he can make shots. Once he makes one, you believe that he can make the next four or five in a row.”
Once able to step on the court in meaningful situations, Allen made an immediate impact. He began the year with 10 consecutive double-digit efforts, including a team-high 21 points in the Broncs’ season-opener against Hampton. Allen has since eclipsed the 20-point plateau three other times, including a career-high 28-point performance at Providence on Nov. 29.
“I’m just trying to be coached up every day, just pay attention to everything I’ve got to pay attention to and play as hard as I can for my team,” Allen said of his approach this season. “My teammates and coaches, they give me the confidence to do what I do best, and just shoot the ball.”
Since he did not play prior to this season, Allen is eligible for the league Rookie of the Year award. He currently leads all eligible freshmen in scoring with a 13.3 ppg average, just ahead of Canisius’ Takal Molson (13.0) and Monmouth’s Deion Hammond (12.0).
Vaughn and Scott, while classified as freshmen, previously saw playing time earlier in their careers and are not eligible to be named to the All-Rookie team or win Rookie of the Year.
Vaughn saw action in the team’s first nine games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Kennesaw State. At the time of his injury, Vaughn was averaging 4.8 ppg and 3.9 rpg but the redshirt freshman has enjoyed a breakout year this season. The New York City native currently leads the Broncs with a 14.4 ppg average and has pulled down 6.2 rpg while shooting 50.2% from the field.
On Jan. 18, Vaughn lit up the scoreboard with a career-high 34 points on 13-18 shooting with a 5-6 performance from beyond the arc against Saint Peter’s. The effort helped the Broncs overcome a six point halftime deficit and defeat the Peacocks 88-84, kicking off the team’s current six-game winning streak.
“Give [Dimencio] credit,” Baggett said after that win. “He was making three-pointers, he was getting to the basket, he was making his free throws. He’s a multi-talented player. He can defend, he rebounds for you. Dimencio’s really good and he’s only going to get better. I’m happy to see his progression.”
Scott has perhaps been Rider’s best new acquisition this season. Like his fellow freshmen, Scott spent last season on the Broncs’ bench, but did so as a transfer out of DePaul. Scott played just eight total minutes over four games for the Blue Demons during the 2015-16 campaign before transferring to Rider while retaining his freshman eligibility.
It didn’t take long for Scott to make an impact with his new squad. In Rider’s first game of the season against Hampton, Scott poured in 15 points with 14 rebounds in a 90-75 victory over the Pirates. Scott has reached double-figures in all but six games this season, but the highlight of his year came just three days before Christmas when he drained a buzzer-beating triple to take down Penn State for the program’s first win over a Big 10 squad in over a decade.
“I just had confidence,” Scott said after his dramatic bucket. “My coaches, my players, everybody was counting on me. So I shot it with confidence.”
Scott’s 13.6 ppg ranks among the top ten in the MAAC while his 6.9 rpg leads the Broncs and ranks fourth in the league. Although struggling from the free throw line (45.7%), Scott is currently converting over half of his field goal attempts, and at his current pace should be a shoe-in for an All-MAAC team come season’s end.
Not to be overlooked, sophomore forward Tyere Marshall has done an excellent job solidifying the post game after the graduations of Kahlil Thomas, Norville Carey, and Xavier Lundy from last season’s squad. As a freshman, Marshall averaged 4.0 ppg and 3.9 rpg as a reserve, but has boosted those figures to 10.7 ppg and 6.5 rpg as a starter this season.
This young group of players has led Rider to great success thus far this season. Although the Broncs are not without their shortcomings, first place in the MAAC remains theirs for the time being, and may soon become a regular resting spot in the years to come. For Baggett’s Broncs, this looks like just the beginning.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.