By Chris Brooks
The end of the basketball season yielded inconsistent results for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Each team qualified for the post-season MAAC tournament on March 8 in Springfield, Mass.
The second-seeded Broncs (19-5, 12-6 MAAC) were matched up against seventh-seeded Fairfield (19-16, 9-9 MAAC). Despite giving up their fewest points on defense all season, the Broncs were unable to pick it up offensively and lost in a nail-biter 43-42.
“It was one of those games we struggled to score,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said. “We struggled to shoot. We turned the ball over way too much.”
Offensively, the Broncs were unsuccessful in making six attempted three-point field goals and were credited with zero assists in the box score. To add to their offensive woes, the Broncs went 16 of 26 from the free throw line while Fairfield sank 13 of 18.
“That’s why you play defense: to allow yourself to have a chance to win the game,” Baggett said. “And we had a chance to win it at the end.”
With 1.2 seconds to go, junior forward Nurideen Lindsey stepped to the free throw line with the team trailing 43-40. He sank the first shot to pull the Broncs within one, but was unable to miss the second free throw to give the team a chance for a final rebound and shot to tie the game.
Because of the defeat, the men were unable to qualify for the NCAA tournament, but were still able to participate in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament (CIT). This is the fourth time in the past six years that Rider has been invited to a postseason tournament.
The first round of the CIT pitted Rider against Hartford, where the Broncs looked like a completely different basketball team. The Broncs were able to hit 15 of 20 foul shots and turn over the ball less frequently, resulting in a 63-54 victory. Junior guard Anthony Myles tied his career best with 23 points, while senior guard Jon Thompson racked up 16 points along with four assists and three steals.
This victory marks the first time the Broncs have won a national postseason tournament since 1957.
Following the win, the Broncs traveled to Greenville, N.C. to take on East Carolina University in the second round of the CIT. The Broncs battled hard all game, but lost 75-54. Thompson led the Broncs with 18 points in his 128th and final game of his college career.
“We are going to miss Thompson,” Baggett said. “He was our best player — the heart and soul of our team, a leader, a captain.”
Thompson ends his Rider career with 952 points and ranked eighth in the Rider record books with 372 assists.
The Broncs will only lose two seniors: Thompson and center Dera Nd-Ezuma. Although they will be missed, Baggett is optimistic for next season.
“We have three young men coming in that will add some different things, so I see ourselves having a chance again next year,” he said.
On the other side, the women’s team was having a successful season of its own. In her sixth season as the women’s head coach, Lynn Milligan led the Broncs to a fourth seed in the MAAC Tournament. Matched up against fifth-seeded Niagara, the Broncs were unable to continue their season, losing 59-54.
“Our last game was a tough one,” Milligan said. “We needed a better start and we did not shoot the ball well. We dug ourselves a hole and fought to get back. We had a chance to win it at the end but came up short.”
Behind 43-26 with 9:58 to play, the Broncs surged back with a 12-0 run to cut the lead to five.
Later in the half, the Broncs trailed 57-54 with 14 seconds remaining, but had their final shot blocked by Niagara to cut the Broncs’ season short. Although it did not reach its goal, the women’s team had a strong year led by the strong senior class.
“This season was successful for us as a program,” Milligan said. “Any success starts with your seniors. Caitlin Bopp, Carleigh Brown, Dior Brown and Sironda Chambers did a great job leading us this season. We were able to mix our senior talent with solid underclassmen and freshmen to make this season successful.”
Though the seniors were a large part of the success for the Broncs, graduate forward Carleigh Brown attributes the solid play to teamwork.
“We had really good team chemistry this year — better than any year past,” Brown said. “Chemistry is extremely important when it comes to basketball. It comes from multiple things, like understanding your role on a team, putting the team before yourself and knowing how to put teammates in successful situations.”
Though the women’s team is losing critical players, it is expected to perform well again in the future. The women will lose four seniors, but will have 10 returning players including first team All-MAAC forward MyNeshia McKenzie.
“We feel good about this season and leading into next season,” Milligan said. “Any time you take a step as a program the next step is bigger and harder. We will start our preparations now so we can take that step.”