By Jordan Hall
In most sports, it’s always difficult to beat a team three times in a season, and for Siena, it sure wasn’t easy against the Broncs. Rider defeated St. Peter’s 69-57 on March 6 to set up a third meeting with the Saints. In the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament, the Broncs gave the conference frontrunners a legitimate scare until Siena finally closed out the 72-62 victory, ending Rider’s winning but inconsistent season.
The fifth-seeded Broncs revived a matchup of last year’s quarterfinals with the fourth-seeded Peacocks (16-14 overall, 11-7 MAAC), and the outcome was no different. In the previous season, Rider finished third and defeated sixth-place St. Peter’s after jumping out to a 20-6 lead. History repeated itself as Rider came out sharp, igniting a 22-6 run to start the contest.
“I think it’s really important to get off to a good start in a tournament setting,” Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said.
The Broncs’ advantage slowly shrunk in the second frame as St. Peter’s began to chip away. Rider’s double-digit lead was erased with less than eight minutes left in regulation and at one point, was trimmed down to six before senior Ryan Thompson answered the bell. The swingman delivered the final knockout punch in an authoritative way, connecting on two free throws and then slamming home a flourishing dunk over a Peacock defender, stretching the lead back to 10.
“Your best player has to step up when he thinks things are getting tight,” Dempsey said. “The dunk created momentum and it was a big swing in the game.”
Rider showed superb efficiency, committing only nine turnovers while getting to the foul line 46 times, the second most in MAAC Tournament history, and converted on 31 of those attempts.
Thompson seemed like a player who didn’t want his collegiate career to end as he finished with 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in 39 minutes of action. His supporting cast was just as good. Juniors Mike Ringgold and Justin Robinson dropped in 15 points apiece while sophomore Novar Gadson chipped in 12 points and a team-high seven boards.
The impressive victory set up a semifinal date with conference power, Siena (26-6 overall, 17-1 MAAC), a team that defeated Rider twice during the season by a combined 48 points.
The Saints, host of the tournament, had the benefit of home-court advantage, an asset that has been dominant against its opponents. Siena entered the contest with a 36-home-game winning streak, second longest in the country after Kansas, and the home edge proved vital throughout the tournament.
The raucous environment didn’t rattle the Broncs. In fact, it fueled Thompson and his sidekicks. The First-Team All MAAC selection quieted the Times Union Center by scoring Rider’s first 12 points en route to an early 12-9 lead. The rest of the half turned into a seesaw battle as it consisted of five lead changes and four ties, but the Broncs went into the break with a surprising 30-28 advantage.
Rider maintained its slim lead and never trailed by more than a point until the halfway mark of the final frame. The Saints then decided to show why they were the two-time defending MAAC Champions. Siena erupted for a 16-0 run in a matter of five minutes and before the Broncs could blink, they were trailing 60-48 and their season was just about finished.
“They got on that run with 10,000 people behind them and they did what good teams do at home,” said Dempsey.
Rider was unable to answer as the Saints marched into the conference title and eventually captured the MAAC crown and automatic NCAA bid for the third straight year.
Thompson was subbed out with the game out of reach and received a standing ovation from the pro-Siena crowd, showing their respect for a remarkable career. The Broncs’ leading scorer put a close to his college playing days with a 21-point performance. Ringgold didn’t want to go home, as was evident from his monster double-double, placing in 20 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
“Ryan’s always been a big tournament player and he delivered,” Dempsey said. “Mike was embarrassed by the way we played against Siena the week before and he was determined to not let that happen again. I thought he out-competed everybody on the floor.”
Rider concluded the season 17-16 overall, 9-9 in league play and they now have the tall task of replacing Thompson. The Broncs are on the right track, having already signed 6’6” forward, Danny Stewart, who was graded an 86 by scouts on ESPN.com, while receiving a verbal commitment from shooting guard Anthony Myles, the highest rated recruit in program history. The Dover native received scholarship offers from Temple and South Florida.
With the Thompson brothers era coming to a close, Rider eagerly anticipates the incoming talent, who will surely have big shoes to fill.
By Jordan Hall