Things just got really interesting in the MAAC.
After an impressive 10-game winning streak, the Rider men’s basketball team (18-9 overall, 11-5 MAAC) has lost three straight and is now in a four-way tie for first place in the conference.
“I don’t think so,” Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said in response to whether the tough Siena loss had to do with the last two games. “I think each game has its own shape and form. The matchups are different, so I don’t think one loss contributes to another. We played the two hottest teams in the MAAC and came up short.”
Loyola, which beat Rider on Monday, joined the Broncs — along with Niagara and Siena — in the battle for first place. With Fairfield’s win over Rider over the weekend, the Stags are now just one game out of the race as well.
The Broncs’ road losses against Fairfield and Loyola were tales of two halves. Rider had the lead going into halftime of both games, shooting over 60 percent from the field, but fell under 40 percent in the second half for both games.
They were outscored by a combined 86-54 in the final 20 minutes of the contests.
“You don’t always have all the answers for why the ball doesn’t go in the hoop,” Dempsey said. “We got good shots from good shooters. We didn’t defend Fairfield real well in the second half and we got out-rebounded, giving them too many points.”
Rider was up 44-36 with just over two minutes left in the half when Fairfield went on a 10-2 run to tie the game up with 20 seconds left before the break.
Freshman guard Justin Robinson swung the momentum back in Rider’s favor, nailing a 3-pointer to give it the lead going into the half.
The Broncs took a 68-66 lead after senior forward Jason Thompson hit both of his free throws with 7:24 left, but then the Stags went on a game-changing 8-0 run.
Senior forward Mamadou Diakhake drilled back-to-back 3-pointers and sophomore forward Anthony Johnson capped off the spree with a dunk.
With the score 79-70, junior guard Harris Mansell, who finished the game with 16 points, connected on one of his four shots from behind the arc to trim the Stags’ lead to six. That would be the closest the Broncs came as Fairfield answered with seven straight points to put the game out of reach.
Freshman forward Warren Edney went 7-11 from the field, including 3-5 from 3-point range, for 18 points. Senior forward Marty O’Sullivan delivered for the Stags with 18 points off the bench and Johnson had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Despite battling early foul trouble that limited his minutes in the first half, Thompson shot 9-10 for a game-high 20 points. Senior guard Kamron Warner once again was an asset off the bench, hitting three 3-pointers and finishing with 12 points.
“We need contributions from our supporting cast,” Dempsey said. “Kam has been consistent for us off the bench.”
The Stags outscored the Broncs 42-27 in the second half, shooting a terrific 61.5 percent as a team.
Against Loyola on Monday, it looked as if Rider had shaken off the last two games as it had a 12-point lead at halftime, shooting over 66 percent as a team, led by Mansell, who had 15 points.
Things went downhill for the Broncs in the second half, as they shot under 35 percent while Loyola shot nearly 58 percent and outscored Rider 44-27.
Trailing 49-39, the Greyhounds rallied with a 13-3 run to tie the game up at 52 a piece with 9:56 remaining. Junior guard Marquis Sullivan hit two 3-pointers during the run and a layup by senior guard Gerald Brown tied the score.
Down 65-64, freshman guard Matt Griffin made his only basket of the game at a crucial moment, connecting on a three to give Rider a two-point lead with 2:28 left.
Loyola tied it back up on the next trip down the court when Brown was fouled by sophomore guard Ryan Thompson and made both of his attempts.
On the Greyhounds’ next possession, senior forward Omari Israel gave Loyola the lead on a layup off a pass by freshman guard Brian Rudolph, the last of his 10 assists on the night. Rudolph then made a layup of his own to extend the lead to four.
A foul shot by freshman forward Mike Ringgold made it a three-point game, but senior forward Michael Tuck hit two shots from the charity stripe to close out the 73-68 Loyola win.
“It was a great game that was played extremely well, but we came up short,” Dempsey said. “We had our chances and we didn’t get it done.”
Loyola had four players score in double digits, with Tuck leading the group with 20 points. Brown finished with 16 points.
Rudolph and Edney were selected as MAAC co-Rookies of the Week.
Jason Thompson had his 17th double-double of the season, and 47th of his career, with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Ryan Thompson had 15 points and five rebounds for the game, and Mansell finished with 18 points on 7-11 shooting, including 4-7 from behind the arc.
“Harris has been consistent,” Dempsey said. “He was third-team all-conference in the pre-season and that’s what he’s expected to do.”
Rider will take on Cal. State Northridge on Saturday as a part of ESPN’s Bracketbuster games. The game will be shown on ESPN U at 9 p.m.
The Broncs hope to stop their current skid and regain supremacy in the MAAC, a daunting task with just two conference games left before the MAAC Championship begins on March 7.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing,” Dempsey said. “If we keep playing hard, we will win the games down the stretch.”