By Michael O’Brien
As sickening as the norovirus was that swept through Rider’s campus this past week, it must have been equally sick to watch and hear about what happened at the end of Rider’s bout against Niagara on Saturday.
In a game identical to what happened earlier in the week, Niagara came back from a 17-point deficit to take the lead against the Broncs in the final seconds. In a last-second shot, junior Jonathon Thompson appeared to have scored the game winning three-pointer at the buzzer, just like senior Brandon Penn had done at home.
However, the refs overruled the basket and gave Niagara the win because the shot did not apparently leave Thompson’s hands before the buzzer sounded. Head Coach Tommy Dempsey claimed that the game clock started too early before Rider inbounded the ball, yet the referees would not change their decision and the result stood as a loss for the Broncs.
After the gut-wrenching defeat, the Broncs finished the road portion of the MAAC schedule a disappointing 3-6. The positive out of the trip is that the remaining conference games are played in the Broncs’ Zoo against three of the top four teams in the MAAC: Iona, Loyola (MD) and Fairfield. After the loss to Niagara, the Broncs will have fire in their eyes as they begin the final stretch run to the MAAC Tournament.
Many students and fans probably circled the final three home games when the schedule was released back in September. The most anticipated game people wanted to see is tomorrow night against Iona. Why? Because everyone in the MAAC predicted Iona to be the top dog this season, led by seniors Scott Machado and Mike Glover, sophomore Sean Armand and highly talented junior transfer from Arizona, LaMont “Momo” Jones.
Back on Jan. 20, the Broncs traveled to Iona to face the Gaels and were blown out by 20 points, 91-71. Yet that was nearly four weeks ago and this Rider team is healthier and more suited for Iona than it was during the first meeting.
The keys for a Rider upset would be to prevent Machado from making any open passes since he leads the NCAA in assists per game. The Broncs will also have to prevent the open three as Jones, Machado and Armand are among the leaders in the MAAC in three-point field goal percentage. The Broncs need to make a statement before the MAAC Tournament starts in two and a half weeks and to defeat the team currently in first place would be a huge accomplishment. Iona had its moment in January. Now, this Wednesday night, it is the Broncs’ time to shine under the national spotlight.
MAAC standings as of Feb. 14:
1. Iona 20-6 (12-3 MAAC)
1. Loyola 19-6 (12-3 MAAC)
3. Manhattan 18-9 (11-4 MAAC)
4. Fairfield 15-10 (10-4 MAAC)
5. Rider 11-16 (8-7 MAAC)
6. Siena 11-14 (6-9 MAAC)
7. Niagara 11-16 (6-9 MAAC)
8. Marist 9-16 (4-10 MAAC)
9. St. Peter’s 5-21 (4-11 MAAC)
10. Canisius 4-21 (1-14 MAAC)