By Corey Donetz
The Rider men’s basketball team will not only take the bus this weekend, but will also ride its momentum to Springfield, Mass. to take on the fourth-seeded Fairfield Stags in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
The Broncs (13-18, 10-8 MAAC) defeated Loyola (MD) (21-6, 13-5 MAAC) last Friday, 83-79, to lock up the fifth seed and ensure themselves a first-round bye in the MAAC Tournament. Rider followed it up with an emotional win on senior day on Sunday against Fairfield, (17-13, 12-6 MAAC) 65-62, the same team it sees on Saturday.
“Fairfield is a tough, physical team who plays defense for 40 minutes,” senior forward Brandon Penn said. “You don’t see that a lot, so we know what to expect, having played them twice already and next Saturday being our third meeting. We are well prepared for [the game] and so are they.”
Penn, along with fellow seniors Novar Gadson, Jeff Jones and Kevin Noon, were all in the starting lineup for senior day. Gadson accounted for a team-high 19 points and seven rebounds and Jones added 14 points and three assists.
“The senior day ceremony was really emotional,” Gadson said. “But we as a team had to stay focused on the task at hand, which was Fairfield.”
This will be the third meeting between Rider and Fairfield, with the series knotted at 1-1 in the regular season. The Broncs will look to run and score in transition, but must be careful to limit turnovers.
Fairfield is led by senior Rakim Sanders. The forward, who transferred to Fairfield after playing three seasons with Boston College, leads the team with 16.7 points points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game.
The Stags will be without junior guard Derek Needham for the second straight game against the Broncs, and will miss his services for the remainder of the season because of a fractured bone in his left foot. Needham is second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.8 points per game, and he leads the Stags with 3.4 assists per game.
Fairfield will look to feed senior center Ryan Olander in the post, as well as sophomore forward Maurice Barrow for additional offense to take some of the pressure off of Sanders.
“In order for us to beat Fairfield again Saturday, we have to be strong with the ball, defensive rebound, keep them off the offensive glass and get out in transition,” Penn said. “They want to make it a half court game; we want to get up and down and get their bigs moving.”
The Broncs certainly played better this time around against Fairfield, as the Stags held Rider to 32 percent shooting from the field and to a season-low 52 points in its first matchup of the season. Rider’s core have all seen increased minutes since losing sophomore guard Anthony Myles for the season because of a broken hand. Junior guard Jon Thompson played in all 40 minutes of Sunday’s game, scoring 13 points.
“We get a whole week to make adjustments on our game,” Thompson said. “The key to beating them is handling their pressure and running through our offense.”
The winner of this game will take on the winner of the Iona-Saint Peter’s/Marist game. If the Broncs win in the quarterfinals, the semifinals game will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.
“We have to do what we have been doing all year,” Gadson said. “And that’s staying together and taking it game by game. I think we match up well with every team. [We] just have to play well and stay together. It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.”