Basketball Blog: Rider faces pressure-filled weekend as MAAC Tournament looms

Senior Brandon Penn and Rider await a huge weekend against top-tier MAAC opponents.

By Michael O’Brien

Pressure — defined in the English dictionary as a burdensome condition that is hard to bear or handle. It is also the title of the popular 1982 song by Billy Joel. This is the one simple word that is going around campus this week as the Broncs prepare for their final two regular season games against Loyola (MD) and Fairfield, two teams who are both currently tied for second place in the MAAC.  These two games will determine the team’s important seeding for the MAAC Tournament, which takes place March 2-5.

Last week, Rider hoped to start a positive run to the tournament, but instead, its shooting went flat for two straight games.

Against first place Iona last Wednesday, the team was without star seniors Novar Gadson (violation of team rules) and Jeff Jones (Norovirus). Despite an outstanding first half that saw the Broncs take the lead at halftime, the shooting went ice cold as the Iona juggernaut blitzed Rider in the second half and never looked back, winning 75-62.

In the BrackBuster game, the injury bug struck again as Rider traveled to Albany to take on the Great Danes. Senior Brandon Penn suffered a minor knee injury before the game and did not play, while sophomore Anthony Myles suffered a hand injury that Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said might keep him out for the final two regular season games.

With two games remaining, the Broncs are currently in fifth place in the MAAC and one game ahead of both Siena and Niagara. In the MAAC Tournament, the top six teams in the conference receive a bye, while the bottom four teams, seventh through tenth place, play in the preliminary round.

Based on Rider’s conference record, the Broncs will most likely have to win at least one game this weekend, or receive some help with Siena and Niagara losses, in order to avoid playing in the preliminary round. In MAAC history, a team that finished below sixth place has never gone on to win the conference tournament.

On ESPN2 Friday night, the Broncs welcome the Greyhounds of Loyola, who are enjoying its best season in nearly two decades. Recently, though, the team has struggled in conference play as they were crushed at home by Fairfield and then lost convincingly on the road against Marist, one of the worst teams in the MAAC.

On Sunday, the team will honor their seniors as they play their final home game in the Broncs’ Zoo on ESPN3 against Fairfield. The Stags, considered by many to be the second best team in the conference, Fairfield has struggled at times against fellow conference opponents. Yet, the Stags possess a strong defensive squad, which gave up just 52 points to the Broncs in their first meeting back in January.

With much at stake this weekend, the term “pressure” is at its highest peak for Rider. The United States women’s soccer team has a motto which states “pressure makes us.” That phrase could be a motivator for the Broncs as Rider attempts to overcome all obstacles its faced this season and turn it into a winning weekend every Rider fan will never forget.

MAAC standings as of Feb. 21. 2012:

1. Iona 22-6, (13-3 MAAC )

2. Loyola 20-7, (12-4 MAAC)

2. Fairfield 17-11, (12-4 MAAC)

4. Manhattan 19-10, (11-5 MAAC)

5. Rider 11-18, (8-8 MAAC)

6. Siena 12-15, (7-9 MAAC)

6. Niagara 12-17, (7-9 MAAC)

8. Marist 11-17, (5-11 MAAC)

9. Saint Peter’s 5-23, (4-12 MAAC)

10. Canisius 5-22, (1-15 MAAC)

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