By Eric Malave
The men’s basketball team lost a close one in their season opener to Murray State at the Regional Special Events Center in Kentucky last Friday.
“It was a tough first game against a really good team far away from home,” said Head Coach Tommy Dempsey. “I felt that the guys handled themselves well in a tough environment.”
Murray State jumped out to an early lead, leaving the Broncs trailing 15-7 only 11 minutes in. Rider was only able to make three of their first 10 shots from the field, giving Murray State the advantage.
The Broncs were down 30-24 at the end of the first half, shooting just over 35 percent and only 25 percent from 3-point range.
“We struggled on offense in the first half,” Dempsey said. “Murray State had a lot to do with that. They were the top defensive team in their conference. They made it hard to score.”
The game went back and forth for most of the second half until the Racers were able to increase their lead to nine, outscoring Rider 9-2 with 15 minutes left.
The Broncs answered right back with a combination of two free throws by sophomore guard Ryan Thompson and two 3-pointers by junior guard Harris Mansell, which tied the game at 57-57 with three minutes left to play.
Mansell led the MAAC in three-point field goals last season, while currently shooting four of five thus far.
“We are more than a one- man show,” Dempsey said. “Murray State’s game plan was not to let Jason [Thompson] beat them. Ryan [Thompson] and Harris [Mansell] really stepped up and did everything they could to bring us to a victory. That was a really good sign.”
Rider shot the ball better in the second half, shooting 57.9 percent from the field and going 6-9 from behind the arc.
Murray State held a fourpoint lead late into the second half until junior Lamar Johnson scored his first points of the night on a 3-pointer, cutting the lead to one with 25 seconds left to play.
The Broncs were down by two after a Racers foul shot until Mansell went to the line and sunk both foul shots, tying the game up at 65 with 3.5 seconds left.
Things took a turn for the worse for Rider when Murray State junior Kevin Thomas was fouled with .2 seconds left in the game. He hit one of his two foul shots to give the Racers insurance for the win.
Mansell scored a career high 21 points. Ryan Thompson also scored a career high 23 points with eight rebounds, claiming 12 of Rider’s first 19 points.
Senior power forward Jason Thompson scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds throughout the game. Junior Kevin Thomas added 14 points to the board in the Broncs’ defeat.
“This team has really good chemistry,” Dempsey said. “Whenever you play on the road, you kind of have to take the us against the world mentality. If your team is not a close-knit group, winning becomes difficult as a group.”
For Murray State, sophomore forward Danero Thomas led the team in scoring with 15 points. As a team, Murray State had a field goal percentage of 52.3 and shot over 63 percent in the second half in its win over the Broncs.
The Broncs first faced off against Murray State last season in the O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBuster series.
The Broncs will host their home opener against Delaware tomorrow at 3 p.m. An alumni game will take place at 11 a.m.
“Delaware and Rider has been a good rivalry,” Dempsey said. “We can expect them to give us all we can handle. We are excited to play in front of our home fans. Our guys are really excited to show that we have a really good basketball team.”