By Jordan Hall
Last Saturday’s traditional ESPNU Bracketbuster game against the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) wasn’t the most impressive performance from Rider this season, but the key was, the Broncs finished with the win, pretty or not.
“At this time of year, it was a little different taking a break from the league, but we found a way to win down the stretch,” said Head Coach Tommy Dempsey.
Rider captured its seventh victory in its last 10 games with a 71-65 win over the Retrievers at Alumni Gym, improving to 16-11 overall.
The triumph was a solid résumé booster for the Broncs as UMBC was a NCAA tournament participant last season and entered the matchup with a 12-14 record. The Retrievers are a product of the America East Conference and boast one of the top players in their league, Daryl Proctor. The senior forward came in averaging 20.1 points per game, first in the conference, and had a total of 1,825 career points under his belt.
The first half was an even battle and consisted of six lead changes and two ties. Neither team was able to open up a significant advantage, as Rider’s largest lead sat at four, and UMBC’s was six. The Retrievers closed the frame on a 13-8 run, giving themselves a 38-34 advantage at the break.
Coming off their best shooting performance of the season from three-point range (13-21, 61 percent) against Niagara, the Broncs surprisingly struggled in the first half from deep. Rider went 1-10 from three, compared to UMBC’s 4-11 mark, proving to be the difference early on.
The Broncs came out sharp in the second half, quickly regaining the lead only three minutes into the frame, 43-42, thanks to a 9-4 spurt. The next 10 minutes contained six lead changes until Rider finally decided enough was enough.
The Broncs once again closed out a game with force. Rider ignited a 19-10 run to finish the contest, putting the final nail in the coffin.
“Most games at this level are going to be won at the end, and this year we’ve been resilient down the stretch,” Dempsey said.
Freshman and five-time MAAC Rookie of the Week Novar Gadson jump-started the stretch with a three-point play and senior sniper Harris Mansell ended it with three foul shots.
Junior point guard and leading scorer Ryan Thompson put in six points during the final push, as did Mansell.
Dempsey continued to receive solid guard play on Saturday as Mansell and sophomore Justin Robinson dropped in 15 points apiece and shot a combined 13-17 (76 percent) from the charity stripe.
“We’ve had solid guard play throughout the season and it’s been better as of lately than it’s been all year,” said Dempsey.
Thompson led Rider in the scoring column for the 17th game this season, cashing in 16 points while grabbing nine boards and handing out four assists.
Proctor scored a game-high 23 points for UMBC, but did so on 10-27 shooting.
“He’s a high-volume shot taker so we told our guys that he’s going to take a lot of shots, let’s just make them tough shots,” Dempsey said. “I thought a key to the game was that we didn’t give him any easy baskets.”
The Broncs shot 51.9 percent from the field in the second half, while holding the Retrievers to only 36.6 percent shooting the entire contest, and 23.5 percent from three.
Rider now looks forward to Sunday’s matchup with Fairfield, where the Broncs will honor seniors Mansell, Lamar Johnson and Kevin Vosilla before the final home game of their collegiate careers.
“The senior game is one they’ll always remember, so we want to make sure this memory is a positive one,” Dempsey said.
Tip off is set for 2 p.m. at Alumni Gym.