Exhibition Game: Rider 76, Scranton 59
|Junior Fortunat: Photo by John Blaine|
LAWRENCEVILLE — There’s no waiting around for Junior Fortunat this season.
A year ago, Fortunat had to sit out the first 10 games while he waited for the NCAA to clear his academic transcript — a standard procedure for all international players (Fortunat is from Montreal although he played his final two seasons of high school ball at Roman Catholic in Philadelphia) — but he’s already hit the ground running even before the season’s first game.
Fortunat scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds Saturday, helping Rider to a 76-59 victory over Division III Scranton in an exhibition at Alumni Gymnasium.
“It feels good,” the sophomore forward said. “Especially with coach (Kevin Baggett) because he knows me a little bit better.”
Baggett expects Fortunat to step in at center, taking some of the pressure off Danny Stewart, whose more natural position is power forward.
Even though it was an exhibition, it looks like the Broncs may have a combination that works.
With Fortunat banging away on the block, Stewart was able to move more freely, finishing with an impressive 16 points and 13 rebounds.
The duo combined for 14 of Rider’s 20 offensive rebounds.
“He gives us a big presence inside that we really didn’t have last year,” Stewart said. “He sucks in the defense and that allows us to get open perimeter shots.”
“We try to get a double-double in order to play well,” Fortunat said. “That means playing defense because that is important to coach and without defense, you can’t win enough games.”
Baggett said he liked the energy level that his two big guys provided.
“These guys have done a good job,” Baggett said. “For us to be good, Junior has to average a double-double and Danny did some good things. I would like to see (Stewart) be more aggressive on the perimeter when he has some shots because he had some chances to drive guys. They brought great energy and got to the glass.”
Following a choppy first half in which the Broncs only led 39-35 at half, they were able to pull away midway through the second with a 13-2 run.
Anthony Myles finished with 13 points and Nurideen Lindsey scored nine of his 10 in the final 20 minutes.
The Royals, who went 17-6 last season and went to the Division III Elite Eight, got a game-high 19 points from Tim Lavelle and 17 from Michael Barr.
Scranton shot 50 percent in the first half, leaving Baggett upset with his team’s defense.
“I’m not happy where we are defensively,” said the first-year coach, who has repeatedly preached that his team will be better than it was a year ago when it allowed 74.6 points per game.
“Our guys realized it. I thought we did a better job the second half, but we have to start off the beginning of the game doing that. It’s a process; I’ve got a lot of young guys and Nurideen Lindsey that are adjusting to playing with new teammates and learning the adjustments.”
Rider opens the season with three straight games at home beginning Nov. 9 when Robert Morris visits.
Baggett said the 26 3-pointers the Broncs attempted “were way too many.”
“If we’re going to win, we’re an inside-out team,” he said. “We’ll go back and look at the film, but Anthony Myles has to be able to get that ball to the basket. He’s way to athletic to rely on just shooting 3s.
“That number will drop considerably, trust me. I do want to be more efficient. I do want to shoot 3s but the points in the paint are more important to me. We had 37 and I thought we could have had about 50.”
Rider made 9 of the 26 (34.6 percent) attempts from beyond the arc.
Baggett said he expects Rider’s starting lineup of Lindsey, Jon Thompson, Myles, Stewart and Fortunat to be the one he goes with on opening night.
“I’m hoping that will be it,” Baggett said. “I’ll go back and look at the film, but they have to understand I’m about the defense.”
Rider debuted its new home white uniforms. That’s a change from the grey strip it has worn the past couple years.
The team only lost one practice day to Hurricane Sandy — Monday — but the players were able to make it across the gym and have a short workout.
“My thoughts are with the people who were directly affected by Hurricane Sandy,” Baggett said. “For us, it was just a matter of adjusting. Being here on campus, our guys were safe, and I knew that all the while. It’s just like as the season goes on, you have to make adjustments to different things and that was one of them.”