By Jason Smith
The men’s basketball team is putting together an impressive streak, and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The Broncs have won five of their last seven games, and the team is peaking just as the ever-present MAAC tournament slowly approaches.
The Broncs hosted conference rival Fairfield on Friday night, a game which aired on ESPNU. Although the teams battled back and forth, the Broncs lost to the Stags 79-75 in overtime.
Head Coach Tommy Dempsey got another solid game from junior Justin Robinson, who finished with 15 points and three rebounds. Robinson kept the Broncs alive with a drive to the hoop with 4.8 seconds left in the second half, tying the game at 71 and sending the contest to overtime.
Senior Ryan Thompson also contributed significantly, adding 18 points; however, it wasn’t his stat sheet that caused the most buzz. Thompson was ejected from the game late in the second half because a flagrant foul called for an excessive elbow. The Broncs were down 68-65 at the time, and Dempsey was pleased how his team regained their bearings and battled back.
“We did a great job managing our emotions and coming back and forcing the game into overtime after Ryan was ejected,” Dempsey said. “I just tried to keep everybody focused on winning the basketball game, but unfortunately, we came up just short.”
Sophomore Novar Gadson thought the ejection gave Rider a boost.
“It gave us motivation,” he said. “Coach Dempsey was telling us to not give up so we just rallied together and stayed together like we have all year.”
Gadson gave the Broncs a solid effort with 10 points and eight rebounds, and junior Mike Ringgold added 13 points, five rebounds and three assists.
The Broncs looked to recover from the tough loss on Monday night against conference foe St. Peter’s in Jersey City, and they didn’t disappoint. Rider got two tremendous second-half efforts from Thompson and Ringgold, and defeated the Peacocks 72-66.
The big road win puts Rider at 8-8 in the MAAC and keeps the team tied for fifth place with Niagara. Dempsey was proud of the way the players recovered from Friday’s tough loss and elaborated on the importance of hitting stride late in the season.
“It was a big win for our team as we are trying to build some momentum during the stretch run, as we prepare for the MAAC tournament,” said Dempsey.
Thompson finished with 21 points, including 18 in the second half. Ringgold also came through with 15 second-half points and finished the game with 17. The Broncs outscored St. Peter’s 8-4 to start the second half and jumped out to a 39-30 lead. That, coupled with the fact that they shot nearly 71 percent from the field in the second half, made it an uphill climb for the Peacocks.
The trio of Thompson, Ringgold and Robinson, who added 11 points and tied a career-high with eight assists, has proven to be deadly to conference rivals, and Dempsey agrees.
“Ryan has been great the past few weeks. But we are still at our best when we have several guys contributing, and Mike and Justin played very well at St. Peter’s,” Dempsey said. “When those three guys play well on the same night, we will be tough to beat.”
Thompson was awarded MAAC Player of the Week for the second time in the last three weeks.
Rider still stands tied at fifth place in the MAAC with Niagara.
The Broncs will take part in the ESPN Bracket Buster weekend, and will take on Hofstra at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Over the past two seasons Rider has been successful during Bracket Buster weekend, going 2-0 with wins over Cal State Northridge and Maryland-Baltimore County.
The Broncs then ends the regular season with home games against Siena and Canisius. The contest against Siena will be televised on ESPNU as the Broncs will try to hand the first place team its second conference loss.
By Jason Smith