By Charles Guthrie
ALBANY, N.Y. — With sophomore guard Ryan Thompson and freshman guard Justin Robinson out of the lineup, the focus was on senior forward and future NBA draft pick Jason Thompson.
For Rider to be successful last night it needed the big man to carry the team on his back, and he did just that.
Thompson punished Marist (18-14 overall) inside, going 12-19 from the field for 32 points and 18 rebounds in the Broncs’ (24-9 overall) 76-71 win over the Red Foxes in the MAAC Semifinals. The MAAC Player of the Year came into the contest shooting under 60 percent from the line, but went a perfect 8-8 tonight when his team needed him most.
There was a strong feeling that it would be a special night for Thompson when he had already racked up his 22nd double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 boards before the intermission.
“Ryan told me I was going to have to carry the load and I took that to heart,” Thompson said.
In one of his best performances, Rider’s senior leader has now compiled more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his illustrious career, making him one of only 95 NCAA players to ever accomplish such a feat. Thompson is one of three players to score 2,000 points for the cranberry and white.
“Jason was unbelievable,” Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said. “Being shorthanded he knew he had to dominate, and he wasn’t an NBA player tonight, he was an NBA All-Star.”
The momentum looked to be shifting to the Red Foxes heading into the break when red shirt junior forward Ryan Schneider hit a jumper at the buzzer to cap off a 9-2 run and give Marist a 39-32 lead.
Rider answered right back at the start of the second half with 9-0 run wrapped up by a 3-pointer from freshman guard Matt Griffin.
“We came out with a sense of urgency,” Dempsey said. “When you are down by seven at halftime, it is not a big deficit, but if it goes the other way and they go on a 9-0 run, then you’re down double figures. We were determined to get off to a good start in the second half.”
Griffin was given the nod to lead the point with Robinson’s injury and had eight points and four assists in 32 minutes of action.
“My mindset coming in was just to win,” Griffin said. “Whatever it took for us to win. I tried to stay within myself, not try to do too much [and] just run the offense as best as I could.”
Rider shot 64 percent in the second half and Marist, after draining eight threes in the first half, struggled, going 4-18 after and finishing a dismal 12-41 from behind the arc.
After senior guard Louie McCroskey hit a tough shot over Thompson to knot the score up at 63, Thompson went on his own 7-1 run and finished off with a three-point play to give the Broncs a 70-64 advantage with just under two minutes remaining.
Junior guard Harris Mansell, who scored 16 points with four assists and four rebounds, hit six straight free throws down the stretch to make it a multiple possession game and seal the Broncs’ victory.
“Tonight was Harris being Harris,” Dempsey said. “He’s been one of our best players all year and he knew he had to step forward with Ryan being down.”
For Marist, McCroskey scored 16 points and missed a double-double by one rebound.
The Red Foxes were given a surge off the bench, as All-MAAC freshman guard Jay Gavin scored 21 points and Schneider had 18.
Rider will take on top-seeded Siena in the MAAC Championship tonight at 7 on ESPN 2. The Broncs dominated the Saints when they last met at the Times Union Center, but lost a heartbreaker in Alumni Gym.
“We’ve got a big game [tonight],” Thompson said. “[It’s] number one against number two in a great atmosphere. Everyone stepped up today with our two starters out and we’re going to need the same effort [tonight].