By Charles Guthrie
In a game that Rider led for nearly the entire contest, it took a free throw in the last few seconds to take the Bracketbuster.
Sophomore guard Ryan Thompson connected on the first of his two foul shots for the Broncs to knock off Big West leader Cal State Northridge, 73-72, in Northridge, Calif., on Saturday.
“I was kind of nervous when I first went to the line,” Thompson said. “But then the team told me to be calm and just shoot the free throws, so when I got to the line I wasn’t really that caught up in the moment.”
Junior guard Deon Tresvant had a good look at the basket coming down the court, but slipped as he stopped and couldn’t make the fade away jumper from 15 feet out, ending the Matadors’ chances for a last-second win.
The win, snapping Rider’s three-game losing streak, was its first ESPN Bracketbuster win in three tries.
“First of all, it was a real good win for us,” Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said. “We flew across the country to play against the Big West leader and they were a hot basketball team. It’s a tough environment to play in and it’s a real quality win for us.”
Senior forward Jason Thompson struggled offensively, shooting only 4-10 from the field and 3-8 from the foul line, tying a season low 11 points.
“I give Cal State Northridge credit,” Jason Thompson said. “They brought some guys in there that were able to body me and were putting two or three guys on me. They were just being real physical in the paint and not letting me get anything easy.”
He still had 13 rebounds, giving him 330 for the season, which is a Rider record for a single season.
The previous record was 328 by Steve Jefferson during the 1971-72 season.
In January, Jason Thompson scored 11 points against Iona in Alumni Gym, and Ryan Thompson and junior guard Harris Mansell carried the team to the 68-63 win, combining for 41 points.
Nearly the same thing happened on Saturday. Mansell made a career-high five 3-pointers and tied a career high in points with 21, which he set in the Iona game. Two of his five threes came at decisive moments in the game.
With Rider up 62-60, Jason Thompson picked up the rebound off a blocked shot and kicked it back to freshman guard Justin Robinson, who found an open Mansell to nail the 3-pointer and extend the lead to five.
Up 69-67, freshman forward Mike Ringgold found Mansell in the corner, and Mansell drilled another three right in front of the Rider bench.
Mansell said the Matadors plan to contain Jason Thompson helped him get open looks.
“He may have struggled but he was still getting attention,” Mansell said. “I got off a couple of open shots because guys were doubling him down low.”
Mansell has started to regain his old form as he averaged just over 18 points in the last three games.
“Shooters have to keep shooting and that’s just what I’ve been doing,” Mansell said. “I was in a little bit of a slump in the beginning of the year, but I’ve been shooting myself out of it and I’ve been feeling confident.”
Cal State junior guard Josh Jenkins came into the game as the Big West’s leader in assists with seven per game, but he came out shooting against the Broncs. The Matadors’ point guard, who only averaged 10 points per game, finished with a team-high 21 points, going 7-14 from the field.
“Their guards were terrific,” Dempsey said. “Both guards made play after play and were almost unguardable down the stretch. We were fortunate to make just enough plays to hold them off.”
Ryan Thompson finished the game with 16 points, 12 in the first half, where Rider was up by eight after the first 20 minutes.
“A good team can’t be carried by one guy throughout the season,” Dempsey said. “Different guys have stepped up for us at different points in the season, and Harris and Ryan really stepped forward in California.”
Jenkins scored 17 points in the second half, including the Matadors’ last 10 points.
After Mansell’s free throws made it 69-64, Jenkins scored in the lane, picked up the foul and made the foul shot. Following a Rider 3-pointer on the next possession, Jenkins hit a three of his own off a nice pick set by junior forward Jermaine Townsend.
Robinson would get called for a questionable reach-in foul on the Big West assist leader with 28 seconds left, and Jenkins hit both foul shots to tie it up at 72.
Townsend led the Matadors with 10 rebounds for the game. Tresvand added 18 points off the bench.
Robinson and Ringgold each had six points and five rebounds.
Cal State entered the game ranked 12th among mid majors according to CollegeInsider.com.
A win was just what the Broncs needed as they head into their final two MAAC games this weekend with first place on the line.
The road win was the Broncs ninth of the season. The team hasn’t won nine games away from Lawrenceville since the 1991-’92 season.
Tonight, the Broncs will take on a St. Peter’s team at Alumni Gym that they had beaten earlier in the season at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., 76-67.
“St. Peter’s is underrated,” Dempsey said. “They’re young so they haven’t found a way to win yet, but they are in every game and they are competitive.
“This is going to be a huge game for them to come here; it’s a New Jersey rivalry. The game will be on ESPN U, and it will be a sellout crowd, so this is a game I expect them to play well in.”
The game will be broadcast on ESPN U, the sixth time this season that the Broncs will be on national television.
If the current four-way tie in the MAAC holds up, the Broncs will have to take part in a tiebreaker to decide the winner. The tiebreaker is complicated and all Dempsey wants to do is focus on this weekend’s games.
“All we can do is take care of business,” Dempsey said. “We have to win our regular season championship and have some things fall our way to win the tiebreaker. All we can do is control our own destiny.”