In one of the most highly anticipated weekends at Alumni Gym, possibly ever, the games lived up to their billing.
Rider basketball fans were treated to two nail-biting, down-to-the-wire games. The problem was the Broncs didn’t win the one they needed to secure MAAC supremacy.
After beating Niagara 80-76 on Friday, the Rider men’s basketball team (18-7 overall, 11-3 MAAC) fell to Siena (16-8 overall, 11-3 MAAC) 80-77 when redshirt junior forward Josh Duell hit an NBA-range 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left for the game’s final score.
“Actually, the play was made by [junior guard] Kenny Hasbrouck,” Duell said. “He found me, I was open enough to make the shot, but really the play was made by Kenny. I just caught it and shot it.”
On the inbound, somebody in the crowd said “Christian Laettner,” referring to the former Duke player’s buzzer beater from the foul line to beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Tournament. That’s what Rider needed, and senior forward Jason Thompson was able to get a good look at the top of the three-point line and shoot over his opponent, but his shot came up short.
Down 69-67, Rider went on an 8-0 run to put them up by six with just under two minutes left. The run was led by senior guard Kamron Warner, who had four of his 13 points off the bench during the run.
“I’m the energy guy, I just want to go in there and change the momentum,” he said. “I definitely got into a rhythm out there. Things were just flowing and I was in the right place at the right time.”
Warner hit two foul shots to tie it up, and on the next possession hit Thompson for two to give the Broncs the lead. Warner then tipped in a missed layup to extend the lead to four. The lead was capped off when freshman guard Justin Robinson made a beautiful pass to sophomore guard Ryan Thompson, who went up and under the basket for the lay-in.
With the score 75-70, Duell would answer with five straight points to tie it up when he drained a 3-pointer, then had a righty layup high off the glass over the extended hand of the 6-foot-11 Jason Thompson.
Jason Thompson would go 1-2 from the line to give the Broncs a 76-75 lead, but Siena sophomore guard Ronald Moore scored after driving the lane to give the Saints the lead back. Jason Thompson would then go back to the line and make another foul shot to tie it up before Duell won it with his 3-pointer.
Duell scored eight of his 14 points in the final 1:37 of the game.
In the first half, Rider shot over 50 percent as a team while Siena shot under 40 percent. In the second half, the roles reversed, as Siena was over 54 percent for the half and Rider shot 39.5 percent.
“I didn’t think we shot the ball particularly well today,” Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said. “That’s been our biggest strength all year is the ability to make shots, and it failed us a little bit today.”
Sophomore Alex Franklin led the Saints with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Moore came one assist shy of a double-double, finishing with 17 points and nine assists. Hasbrouck had 18 points.
Jason Thompson had a monster game, finishing with 26 points and a whopping 24 rebounds. The 24 boards breaks the Rider record he set just eight days earlier against Siena. Thompson already had a double-double in the first half with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“Most of the times when we play against them, it’s for first place,” he said. “I have a size advantage against them as well, so coach draws up plays to get the best matchups early and establish the post game early.”
Two days before, the Broncs’ Zoo welcomed Niagara and Charron Fisher, who entered the contest as the nation’s second leading scorer with 26.7 points per game, in a game that would be decided in the final minute.
Down 78-76, Niagara sophomore guard Tyrone Lewis lost control of the ball, which Warner grabbed, leading to a jump ball in Rider’s possession, sealing the game with just one second remaining.
“We just had to stiffen up,” Dempsey said. “I’m just glad that he didn’t get the ball in the air. We played good defense on him. When the ball got batted free, I thought Justin’s hustle for it really helped to kill the clock and then Kam hustled in and tied up for it.
“We talk about how important hustle plays are. To win the game on one is something good for these guys to see.”
When Rider last met Niagara, the Purple Eagles made 15 3-pointers, and Fisher had career highs in points, with 36, and 3-pointers made, with eight.
Fisher continued to dominate in the first half last Friday, going 9-14 from the field for 20 points. Rider was down only one despite Jason Thompson shooting 1-6 from the field. Freshman forward Mike Ringgold had 10 first half points and Ryan Thompson had 12 to pick up the slack for their struggling big man.
“We have a lot of guys on this team that can make plays,” Dempsey said. “[Jason] was going through a tough stretch in the first half and guys just stepped up and shouldered the load.”
The second half was a different story. Jason Thompson went on a roll, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to finish with 18 and 14 for the game.
“When you see a crowd like that you just want to get energized,” Thompson said. “Every time the Zoo is like that, we play well and it makes it tough on the opposing team.”
Fisher, a New Jersey native, struggled in the second half with questionable shot selection, shooting 3-14, but managed to finish the game with 30 points and 11 rebounds.
“I thought our doubles were slow to get to him in the first half,” Dempsey said. “In the second half I think we had a better focus on it. We got the doubles there quicker and forced him into tougher shots.”
Lewis was the go-to-guy for Niagara in the second half as he scored 21 points, including four 3-pointers. He had 26 points for the game and senior guard Stanley Hodge scored 13 points. Fisher, Lewis and Hodge combined for 69 of Niagara’s 76 points.
Junior guard Harris Mansell was perfect in the second half, shooting 3-3 from the field, with two 3-pointers and 5-5 from the line for 13 points for the half. He finished the game with 16 points. Ryan Thompson had 16 points and eight rebounds for the game and Ringgold finished with 14 points.
This was the first time Rider beat Niagara since January 2006 after losing five straight to the Purple Eagles.
Rider will take on Fairfield on the road tomorrow.
“My goal is to keep going forward,” Dempsey said. “So when the MAAC Tournament comes around a month from now we are a much better team.”