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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, February 12, 2016

Rider, Monmouth have spotlight for MAAC clash

Lawrenceville >> The hosts are trying to haul themselves up the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings after a slow start put them at the bottom of the table.

The visitors are dreaming of a March dance ticket.

Both need victories when Rider (10-15, 6-8) welcomes league-leading Monmouth (20-5, 12-2) to a sold-out Alumni Gymnasium on Friday night (9 p.m., ESPNU, 107.7 FM The Bronc).

“We just got to win, man,” Broncs coach Kevin Baggett said. “We got to find a way to get to the middle of the league where we can stay out of that play-in game. We’ve got (six) games left and it’s going to be nip-and-tuck. Our approach, whether it’s on TV or not on TV, is to try and find ways to win games and try and find our way into that top five.”

Rider lost its first five conference games, but has since righted the ship to go 6-3 in the last nine, splitting the most recent four over an eight-day span.

That’s left the Broncs in a six-team group jostling for position, and as Baggett alluded to, a top-five seed doesn’t have to play on the opening night of the conference tournament.

Four of the last six games are in Lawrenceville.

Of course, two of those six are against the red-hot Hawks, who enter Friday’s tilt carrying a six-game winning streak and an NCAA Tournament at-large profile (RPI: 33; SOS: 152).

Monmouth, which has pulled in fans from across the country thanks to its celebrating bench mob, has a deep roster full of talent.

King Rice’s squad has picked up eye-catching wins over UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and Georgetown.

“They set the tone of things,” Baggett said. “They went out and won some really big games. ... I’m not surprised because I knew the talent they had.”

When Baggett studies the Hawks on tape, his eye always comes back to the same player.

“At the end of the day,” Baggett said, “Justin Robinson is really, really good and he makes that team go.”

Baggett was full of praise for Monmouth’s 5-foot-8 dynamo of a point guard. Robinson ranks third in the conference in scoring, averaging 20.3 points per game.

“You have to do a good job containing him off the ball screens because his change of pace is unlike anybody I’ve seen this year,” Baggett said. “He’s really gotten to understand the game. The game has slowed down for him and he’s dinking in and out of these ball screens ... it’s hard to guard him because he’s small, he’s quick and he can change paces.”

Robinson also shoots the 3-ball at a 42.6 percent clip, which is second in the league.

Rider is likely to use a number of players against Robinson, mainly Zedric Sadler and Teddy Okereafor, two experienced guards. Also look for Shawn Valentine, who at 6-7, uses his length to bother smaller players.

“It’s always good to go up against a good scorer or a good competitor like Robinson,” Sadler said. “Players like that bring the best out of you. You go up to a Niagara and you might get a little lax and not bring as much energy as you would if you played an (A.J.) English or a Justin Robinson. It should be interesting.” 

The Hawks have other options as well led by Micah Seaborn (12 ppg), Deon Jones (10.2 ppg) and Collin Stewart (36 percent from beyond the arc) off the bench.

The Broncs, however, have an advantage inside with Kahlil Thomas (11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds), who has posted a league-best 10 double-doubles. He also tops the conference in field goal percentage (58.1).

“He’s arrived,” Baggett said. “He’s honed his skills and he’s playing with a lot of confidence. Our guys are getting him the ball and he’s making good on those post feeds.”

Rider also has history on its side, having won 12 of the last 14 meetings, including a stretch of nine straight until Monmouth stole a victory at Alumni Gym last season. The Broncs responded by clinching second place in the league with a win in West Long Branch.

With a packed Broncs’ Zoo in the stands, keeping the crowd engaged will be vital.

“We’re not trying to lay an egg on our home floor,” Sadler said. “We’re trying to come out and provide energy for the fans. I know they don’t want to come here and cheer nothing. I know they want to come here and cheer us on. That gives us a boost to come out with a little more energy.”


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