By Ronak Patel
LAWRENCEVILLE, NJ – Last year, as the season was winding down, guard Anthony Myles playing his best stretch of basketball in his sophomore year for the Rider Broncs.
Freshly minting a season-high and then career-high 21-point performance against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference power Iona on Feb. 15, 2012; his confidence was sky high as a Boeing jet.
When Rider ventured to upstate New York to take on Albany in the Sears Bracketbuster game three days later, Myles jumped out quickly by scoring eight points in just 10 minutes.
Then it happened. Myles jammed his left hand.
Unfortunately for the southpaw, that injury turned out to be a broken hand and forced him to miss the rest of the season, including the final two regular-season games and the MAAC Tournament.
In the tournament, fifth seed Rider lost a 65-63 heartbreaker to Fairfield in the quarterfinals to end their campaign at 14-19 overall (Rider went 10-8 in MAAC regular season).
“It was very frustrating,” the junior Myles said of his season-ending injury. “The game of basketball is about resiliency and being able to bounce back from adversity.”
So while Myles began his rehab, the team’s head coach, Tommy Dempsey, bolted for Binghamton. Kevin Baggett, who was an assistant for six years at Rider, took over.
He had a talk with Myles over the summer on what he expected from his junior standout.
“We talked about he wanted it and what type of year he wanted to have,” Baggett said. “I thought he would want it.”
Thus far, as the calendar is turns to February and the MAAC race heats up, Myles is living up to the expectations placed forth by his new head coach. Rider is 11-11 overall and 6-4 in the MAAC, good for fourth currently along with Canisius in the tightly-packed conference race. Two games separate second place Iona (8-2) from Rider and two games below sits Fairfield and Manhattan at 4-6 apiece.
Myles leads the team in scoring at 12.1 a game and is second on the team in rebounding at 4.7 boards a game, second on the team behind junior forward Daniel Stewart, who’s averaging 6.7 rebounds a game.
“He has matured – physically and mentally,” Baggett said. “He is one of those guys that works on his game.
“He’s driving and getting to the basket and getting better everyday.”
Myles’s newfound aggression on the offensive end – one can argue he needed to be after the team’s three of the top four scorers departed from last year’s team (Jeff Jones at 13.4 ppg, Brandon Penn at 12.0 ppg, and Novar Gadson at 10.7 ppg) – has resulted in more free throw attempts this year.
Myles has attempted 95 free throws compared to 58 the previous year and 54 his freshman year. Now if he can improve his free throw percentage – he shot 86 percent last year and shooting 67 percent this year (64-of-95) – his impact will mean that much more to the Broncos.
He worked on his right-hand dribbling skills and overall offensive game, including his jump shot. His newfound offensive game has resulted in collecting a new career-high 23 points earlier this against Jackonsville, which resulted in an 86-71 win in the Hoops for Hope Classic in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“Coach (Baggett) told me I’ll have a bigger role this year than I had the last two couple of years, I had to take that advice and work on my game.”
Myles has also come up with a knack of making big plays when his team needs it most.
On Jan. 20 in a home contest against Iona, Myles strolled to the line with a chance to ice the game for the Broncs with 16 seconds left and Rider up 63-60.
Myles missed his two free throws, but on the second miss, Myles was able to react quickly, knife to the hoop and tip his own miss. The basket resulted in a 65-60 lead for Rider, which held for on the 67-62 win. The win was Rider’s second over Iona in their last eight tussles.
“It wasn’t something I planned or even thought about,” Myles said of the play. “It just happened. When I saw it wasn’t going to fall I knew I had to go get it.”
Baggett added, “He will do whatever it takes to win a game.”
Despite a recent two-game losing streak, Rider is in the thick of a hectic conference race – and that’s due to a big part to having a healthy and improved Myles in tow.