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November 11, 2011Tweet Follow @achiappazzi
Well over a decade ago, Rider was a member of the Northeast Conference. During that time, they owned Robert Morris, rattling off a lengthy winning streak while often finishing at the top of the conference.
The last NEC team to win back-to-back titles before Robert Morris pulled it off a couple years ago? That was Rider.
So it's with some distant familiarity that these two teams resume their series Friday night in the season opener. Whereas Robert Morris is a team looking to merely strengthen what it had from last year with a host of newcomers, Rider is in the position of having to replace some major components.
While the frontcourt is pretty much intact, they lost leading scorer Justin Robinson and starting forward Mike Ringgold to graduation. They took an average of 27 points per game and a host of experience with them.
But four-year starter Novar Gadson is back at forward, and starting alongside him is one of the rising stars of the MAAC: Daniel Stewart. A Philadelphia native, Stewart started all but one game last year as a true freshman and led the team in rebounding. He and Gadson should form a formidable duo inside.
One sidebar to the game will be who won't be on the court for both teams. Robert Morris will be without Mike McFadden as he sits out the first semester due to transfer rules. They'll also be without David Appolon, who is out with an injured shoulder. But Rider's been hit harder. The Broncos will be without projected starting guard Jonathan Thompson, reserves Dera Nd-Ezuma and Tommy Pereria, and freshman Junior Fortunat due to a medley of reasons. They may also be without freshman Mark Medley.
That leaves the Broncos with eight available players for a weekend trip that also includes a game against Pitt. It's a pretty tough task, going against two active defenses without a full complement of players. And it means that the ongoing question of who gets Stewart and Gadson the ball remains unanswered and as something to watch Friday night. It could be sophomore Anthony Myles or one of two freshmen Rider brought into the mix this year.
"It's just plugging a hole right now," Rider coach Tommy Dempsey told the Trentonian. "At this stage, this is what we have to do because we have some guys out, and we have to find a way to put a good team on the court."
Rider will also enjoy the services of senior guard Jeff Jones for the first time. The Virginia transfer sat out last year and will make his Rider debut against Robert Morris. Jones averaged 18 minutes and 7.3 points per game in his junior year at Virginia.
For Robert Morris, this is a chance to see how much the freshmen have learned in the 10 days since the less-than-impressive exhibition debut against Wheeling-Jesuit. They'll be without Appolon, but expect coach Andrew Toole to go to forward Lucky Jones and guard Brandon Herman first. Keith Armstrong might have a leg up right now because of his physicality inside, but Darren Washington is more athletic, and his defense could be needed against Rider's bigs.
If at all possible, Toole would like to use the entire roster early on to see what mixes well. But as he said after the Wheeling-Jesuit game, he's not going to play a guy who isn't capable of helping the team ten minutes just because another guy needs a breather.
With that in mind, look for Toole to tweak the starting lineup Friday night. Russell Johnson should be in, with point guard Anthony Myers out. Myers can spell Velton Jones instead of working alongside him, and the lineup allows RMU to go a little bigger to start.
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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