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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rider's Stewart earning his keep at free-throw line; Broncs go for four straight at SPC

Danny Stewart is shooting 81.1 percent at the foul line/ Photo by JOHN BLAINE

LAWRENCEVILLE — If you asked Danny Stewart two years ago if he would be the top free-throw shooter on the team, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“I probably would have laughed,” Stewart said. “I was a terrible free-throw shooter.”

Now, it’s no laughing matter.

Stewart is shooting 81.1 percent from the line, including a stretch of 18 in a row in which he made 14 of 14 against Rutgers.

His percentage has gone up in each of his three seasons. As a freshman, he shot at a 54.5 percent clip followed by 66.7 percent as a sophomore.

This year, he leads Rider in attempts (90) and makes (73).

“I was at a point where I needed to make them because I was leaving points on the floor,” Stewart said. “It’s been a big emphasis the last two years and it’s showing up now.”

Stewart also began to understand that with the way he plays, he’s going to get fouled. He’s made 15 of his last 16 attempts.

“Free throws close games out,” Stewart said. “I have to make them, and coach makes it a point that we have to make free throws in order to win games.”

Not only at the free-throw stripe has Stewart improved. In the last month, he’s also picked up his overall game.

Since getting shut out in a loss to Princeton on Dec. 20, Stewart has reached double-figures in five of the Broncs’ last six games.

Stewart admitted that coach Kevin Baggett got on him after that game.

“Since then, I’ve been going hard each game,” Stewart said. “He made it a point to me and I had to figure it out.”

Signs point to Stewart being just fine. Over that stretch, he’s averaging 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

The 6-foot-7 forward was named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Week after averaging 22.5 points and 12 rebounds in wins over Manhattan and Loyola.

“I need him to be a double-double guy or close to it,” Baggett said. “I know there are times when we’re playing him at the five, and I don’t want to get him beat up down there when he has to play with his back to the basket. He’s good when he’s on the move, when he can catch it with some space to move.”

Rider (9-9, 4-2) has won three in a row and can secure its first four-game winning streak since the end of the 2010-11 season by beating St. Peter’s (6-10, 1-5) Thursday night in Jersey City. That four-game stretch was part of a larger six-game run that included a victory over Canisius in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament.

Baggett insists there won’t be a letdown, having talked to his team about how dangerous SPC can be. The Peacocks, despite their record, opened the season by beating Rutgers and are the only team to knock off Iona in league play.

“I talked to these guys about it being a trap game,” Baggett said. “Night in and night out anybody can beat anybody in this league. We have to come with the right approach and be ready to go there and face a tough St. Peter’s team.”

Guard Nurideen Lindsey caught an elbow in practice Wednesday and had a small headache, Baggett said. He is day to day. Also, center Dera Nd-Ezuma is expected to play despite a sore back.


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