Rider trying to snap skid at Loyola
|Junior Fortunat is averaging 4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game/ Photo by JOHN BLAINE|
LAWRENCEVILLE — Kevin Baggett could sell his team on this being a new season. But it doesn’t feel like that for the first-year coach.
After all, he can’t change Rider’s 6-8 record.
The Broncs travel to Loyola Friday for the first of 16 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference contests.
Each of the league’s 10 teams played their first two conference games in December.
Rider has lost four straight and hasn’t won since a 62-56 victory over Siena on Dec. 7.
“We’re a little fragile right now,” Baggett said. “Everybody loses a little confidence when you’re losing, and it’s my job to make sure we stay together.”
Conference play offers everybody a lifeline. Only Canisius, winners of one MAAC game a year ago, were victorious in both of those early contests, and only Siena lost both.
“Our league is so tough from top to bottom,” Baggett said. “That’s why predictions don’t really mean anything because you still have to play the games.
“I think this is going to be a dogfight through these next 16 games.”
Loyola (9-5) was the preseason favorite. The Greyhounds returned the trio of Erik Etherly — the preseason Player of the Year — Dylon Cormier and Robert Olson from the squad that won the league tournament and became the first in program history to win 20 games in a season.
Cormier leads Loyola in scoring, averaging 17.4 points per game, while both Etherly (14.2) and Olson (11.5) also reach double-figures.
The Greyhounds also crash the boards better than anybody in the league. They average 37.3 rebounds per game and 14 on the offensive glass.
Rider had issues in its loss to Delaware on the boards, getting out-rebounded 52-31, while giving up 24 offensive rebounds.
A lot of that falls on forwards Junior Fortunat and Dera Nd-Ezuma. That duo combined for seven rebounds against the Blue Hens.
Baggett said they both took it personally.
“We had an opportunity to win another game and we let it slip away on second chances and some turnovers late in the game,” Baggett said. “We’re not doing the little things that would help us win. Yeah, we’re taking that serious.”
But Fortunat is the one Baggett had high expectations for. He said before the season that Fortunat needed to average a double-double for the Broncs to be good.
By his own admission, Baggett realizes that may have been unrealistic for the 6-foot-9 sophomore, who doesn’t have a lot of basketball-playing experience.
“He has to find a way to get himself confidence,” said Baggett, insisting that neither he nor his staff is down on Fortunat. “When you look back, he hasn’t played that long so it’s still a learning process for him. … Right about now, I need him to continue to build to get better. I’m not throwing any numbers at him.”
In fact, Rider hasn’t had anybody get a double-double yet.
But at this moment, that’s hardly important for Baggett. He just needs a win.
“We just have to get that one win to help get us moving in the right direction again,” he said.
Who: Rider (6-8, 1-1) at Loyola (9-5, 1-1).
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Reitz Arena, 107.7 FM The Bronc.
Last time out: Rider lost to Delaware, 73-66; Loyola lost to Memphis, 78-64.
Background: The Greyhounds won six straight after a 1-1 start but have lost four of the last six, including two in a row.
They are coming off a 14-point loss to Memphis on the road and a 20-point setback against Bucknell at home. They split their first two conference games, beating St. Peter’s at the Izod Center in East Rutherford after falling to Niagra.
Erik Etherly, the preseason Player of the Year, has played in just nine games because of various injuries. He still averages 14.2 points and seven rebounds per game. Dylon Cormier is the leading scorer at 17.4 points per contest.
Rider leads the all-time series 23-16 as this is penultimate meeting between the two as MAAC schools. Loyola is joining the Patriot League next season.
Projected starting lineups: Rider: G-Jon Thompson (Sr. 10.5 ppg), G-Nurideen Lindsey (Jr. 11.5 ppg), G-Anthony Myles (Jr. 12.7 ppg), F-Danny Stewart (Jr. 10.1 ppg), C-Dera Nd-Ezuma (2.7 ppg).
Loyola: G-Robert Olson (Sr. 11.5 ppg), G-Dylon Cormier (Jr. 17.4 ppg), F-Anthony Winbush (Gs. 6.7 ppg), F-Jordan Latham (Jr. 4.1 ppg), F-Erik Etherly (Gs. 14.2 ppg).