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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

Friday, January 30, 2015

Fortunat sparks Rider to 7th straight road win

Junior Fortunat scored nine second-half points to spark Rider. (John Blaine Photo)

Jersey City >> Being his final season, Junior Fortunat has accepted a reduced role, deciding to focus his energy on making this the best possible senior campaign.

On Thursday night, he was asked to spell starting center Matt Lopez for a 10-minute stretch in the second half. With Lopez having hard time adjusting to Saint Peter’s physical man-to-man defense, Fortunat, perhaps the most unlikely choice of players to provide an offensive spark, did just that.

He scored all nine of his points in the second half and Rider held off the Peacocks for a 58-49 victory in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game at the Yanitelli Center.

“It’s my last year, so I’m trying to enjoy the moment,” said Fortunat, 6-foot-9 center from Montreal by way of Philadelphia. “The coach believes in me, the team believes in me and I believe in the coaching staff and the team. I just try to enjoy this moment while it lasts.”

In total, Fortunat finished with nine points and two blocks in 15 minutes off the bench. Teddy Okereafor paced Rider with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Zedric Sadler also added nine.

Lopez had his string of 10 straight contests scoring double figures snapped, ending up with eight points and seven rebounds.

The Broncs (14-8, 8-3) extended their winning streak away from Alumni Gymnasium to seven games and are now 8-3 in true road games.

They are alone in second place, ½ game behind Iona.

“I think there are a number of teams that have a chance to win, and I think we are one of those teams,” head coach Kevin Baggett said. “Obviously, we have lost to Iona twice, so we won’t have a chance to meet up with those guys again until the tournament. The only thing we can do is take it game by game and control whatever we can control.”

Baggett has praised his team’s depth all season and this was no different when he chose to ride Fortunat for an extended period of time with Lopez having an off night.

From the time Rider trailed 37-33, Fortunat scored eight of his team’s next 12 points as the Broncs went up by five with 6:42 remaining.

“Junior really ignited us, so I wanted to stay and reward Junior with that,” Baggett said. “I just thought we were playing better with Junior, so I rode the hot hand.”

Rider still had to see this one out at the line, which is no gimme considering the Broncs are the worst free throw shooting team in the MAAC, averaging 61.6 percent.

They finished 19 of 30 from the line, but Shawn Valentine made two clutch shots after the officials whistled Elias Desport for an intentional foul with 51.4 seconds remaining.

The two free throws gave Rider a 54-49 lead and the ball back.

The SPU bench argued that Desport fouled Valentine twice, first on the sideline and the whistle blew for that transgression before Desport committed the intentional foul.

“Shawn stepping up and making those two free throws really swung (momentum) our way,” Baggett said. “That’s experience. (Shawn’s) been there and for him to step up and make those free throws — that’s big time.”

Quadir Welton led the Peacocks (10-12, 4-7) with 15 points, while Rider limited SPU’s top two scorers — Desi Washington and Marvin Dominique — to a combined 16 points on 5 of 20 from the floor.

During the Broncs’ seven-game road winning streak, they’ve limited opponents to 59.2 points per game. This was the third time this season they’ve held the opposition under 50 points.

“I think it’s just buying in as a team,” Fortunat said. “The coach has been talking to us multiple times that buying in is the key to success. If everybody knows their role, we can go so far. Sky’s the limit.”

Fortunat is proof of that.

“He just wants to finish his senior year on a winning note,” Baggett said. “He’s still a big part of what we do. I trust in him to help us win games like he’s done in the past.”


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