Rider finished the regular season 23-8 overall with a 15-3 league record and will enter the MAAC tournament as the #1 overall seed. The Broncs will face #9 seed Saint Peter’s in the quarterfinal round Friday night at 7:00.
The Broncs posted 15 league wins for just the second time in 21 years as a member of the MAAC and the first time with an 18-game schedule. Rider previously posted a 15-5 record during the 2014-15 season. Thanks to valuable contributions from a strong group of underclassmen, the Broncs claimed a share of the MAAC regular season title for the first time in a decade.
Player to Watch: #23 Stevie Jordan, So. G
The quartet of Dimencio Vaughn, Jordan Allen, Frederick Scott, and Stevie Jordan has lifted the Broncs to remarkable heights far ahead of schedule. Though all four bring great value to Rider’s roster, it is Jordan who makes the offense hum.
The sophomore point guard has quickly established himself as the best facilitator in the MAAC, leading the league in assists each of his first two seasons with a 5.6 apg average last season and 6.0 apg mark this year. Rider’s worst loss of the season came against Iona on Jan. 14 when Jordan went down late in the first half with an ankle injury, proving his immense value to the squad.
A classmate of Jordan’s last season, Vaughn played just nine games before going down for the remainder of the 2016-17 campaign with a knee injury. The New York native earned a medical redshirt and retained his freshman eligibility for this season where he has been nothing short of spectacular.
Vaughn led the Broncs with 16.1 ppg while connecting on 51.4% of his field goal attempts and tied for the team lead with 6.6 rebounds per game during the regular season. He has scored double digits in each of his last 10 games entering the league tournament, and broken the 20-point barrier on seven occasions. On Jan. 18, Vaughn poured in a career-high 34 points on 13-18 shooting.
“Dimencio’s just a different guy,” head coach Kevin Baggett said of Vaughn. “He’s wired totally different, and I’ll never forget the fact that this young man came out of nowhere after not really having a season with us. Not having played and then watching what he’s doing now, it’s totally unbelievable.”
A true freshman this season, Allen led all rookies with a 13.6 ppg average and provided the Broncs the ability to space the floor on offense. Allen connected on 39.5% of his three-point attempts through the regular season, and has the ability to go off at any moment.
Scott, a transfer from DePaul who played just eight total minutes for the Blue Demons in 2015-16, has still retained his freshman eligibility two years later. Despite his class ranking, Scott has performed like an experienced player this season, posting 13.0 ppg while tying Vaughn and Tyere Marshall for the team’s rebounding lead with 6.6 rpg.
Earlier this week, all four were named to the various All-MAAC teams. Vaughn made the cut for First Team All-MAAC, Jordan was named to the Second Team, and both Allen and Scott appeared on the Third Team. Allen was also a unanimous choice to the league’s All-Rookie team.
Rider swept the season series from in-state rival Saint Peter’s, but neither game was easy. The Broncs took the first contest by just four points, then pulled out a 63-60 come-from-behind victory on Jan. 26 in which they scored 12 of the game’s final 14 points.
For all the success Rider has enjoyed this year, one issue that has continually plagued the Broncs has been free throw shooting. As a team, Rider connects on just 60.7% of its free throws, a mark which ranks among the worst in all of Division I. During league play, the Broncs hit on just 57.4% of free throws, far and away the worst in the league.
Also working against Rider is a pair of pesky tournament stats. First of all, no #1 seed has captured the MAAC tournament title since Siena did so in 2010. Another stat which hits closer to home is the fact that Baggett has failed to guide his team past the quarterfinals in any of his first five seasons at the helm. Now in his sixth season with perhaps his most talented team, Baggett will attempt to reverse those trends.
“History is made to be rewritten,” Baggett said. “I’m hoping that we can rewrite that and go up there and change that so they can stop saying that same comment about the #1 seed…I’m also tired of being reminded I haven’t gotten past the quarterfinals. It certainly would help, but it’s not about me. It’s about our guys, it’s about the group.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.