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Welcome back to the Trentonian's Full-Court Press blog. Yes, we're still alive, and with the 2015-16 season rapidly approaching, it's time to fire up the old blog for another season. Check back here throughout the year for updates on all things Rider and Princeton, including coverage of both the MAAC and Ivy League. Feel free to drop me a line on twitter @kj_franko ( or email

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rider has to contend with Iona's fast-paced offense

Tim Cluess' Iona team has won 9 in a row. Photo by John Blaine

Rider head coach Kevin Baggett sat in his office earlier this week watching tape of Iona’s 101-91 victory over Canisius.

“That’s like a rat race there,” the second-year boss said.

Thus the challenge presented to his Broncs (13-12, 9-7) when they face the Gaels Friday night (8 p.m., ESPNU) at Alumni Gymnasium in the first of two meetings in 10 days against the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference leaders.

Iona (17-8, 14-2) has won nine straight, posting at least 85 points in seven of those victories.

The Gaels are seventh nationally in points per game, averaging 83.8 and are always looking to push the pace.

“We want to try and push the ball at times, but we also at times have to know we can’t get up and down and try to play to their level because they want to get up and down every possession whether they make a basket or give up a basket,” Baggett said. “We just got to be smart and understand when to go and when not to go.”

During this winning streak, the only two games Iona didn’t reach 80 points were against Saint Peter’s — a team that plays at a slow tempo, but also struggles to score.

Baggett said he wants to be somewhere in the middle, acknowledging that Rider is also at its best when the game is open.

“At the end of the day, I want them to play to our tempo and not theirs,” he said.

The Gaels have five players averaging double figures with guards Sean Armand and A.J. English both putting up 17.6 points per game.

Armand is the sharpshooter, connecting on 42.2 percent form behind the arc while English has emerged as one of the top point guards in the league, dishing out 4.5 assists per contest.

English, who only played half a season as a freshman because of injury, is coming off a 21-point, 13-assist performance in a victory over Monmouth.

“Our job is to find the open man and the open man’s job is to make the basket,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “When you have different guys doing it on different nights and have five guys that can be in double figures for you then you feel like you’re a pretty balanced team and balanced teams are better teams.”

With four games to play, the Broncs are trying to hold on to fifth place and stay out of the play-in round of the conference tournament.

They have a one-game advantage over Marist and a two-game edge over Siena.

Baggett said his focus isn’t on fifth place.

“We certainly want to stay out of the play-in game because that’s just another game you have to play,” he said. “I’m not really looking at it as trying to stay in the fifth position. I’m looking at it as trying to climb the ladder. We’re just trying to build some momentum really.”

Meanwhile, the Gaels are trying to win the regular-season title. They have a 1 1/2 game lead over Manhattan.

“I’m not going to worry about that right now,” Cluess said. “We’re going to worry about Rider. When it’s all said and done we’ll take a look at where we are and decide whether we had a good regular season or not. Obviously, you always want go into the year wanting to finish on top so anyone that does is going to be proud of that accomplishment.”

Iona is trying to make a third consecutive NCAA tournament. They got in as an at-large two seasons ago and won the MAAC tournament last year as a No. 4 seed.

Maybe that’s why Cluess is downplaying the importance of the regular-season title with the MAAC looking like a one-bid league.

“There are so many good teams in there right now,” Cluess said. “Anyone form top to bottom can beat anybody on a given night. It’s really about those three days in March.”


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