By Charles Guthrie
Saying that this year’s men’s basketball team was just a CBI-bound team just doesn’t sound right.
Don’t get it wrong, any other year, an invitation to the new postseason basketball tournament would have been a nice step up for the program. Not this year.
Not in a year when the Broncs were just 40 minutes away from an automatic bid and had a legitimate shot of making a little noise in the field of 65 with the right match ups. It’s kind of disappointing.
Watching Siena and junior guard Kenny Hasbrouck dominate Vanderbilt and run away with an 83-62 win in the first round of the NCAAs, one had to have thought that Rider could have won that game, too.
With the talent the Broncs had, it’s almost certain that if they were given a decent seed that they could have been another lower seeded team that wreaked havoc during the tumultuous Tampa, Fl. session.
But Rider didn’t get that chance after it was routed by the Saints in the MAAC Championship game.
The co-MAAC Regular Season Champions didn’t even get to play Siena anywhere near full strength. The Broncs were worn out and they were running on fumes in the final game.
That’s the disappointing part. Sophomore guard Ryan Thompson — the team’s second leading scorer — was out with a concussion. Third Team All-MAAC guard Harris Mansell was entering the tournament on fire, but was playing the last two games on one leg. Freshman guard Justin Robinson was also playing on a bad ankle that he injured against Canisius in the first round.
There’s no way you can enter into a contest against the Saints, at the hostile Times Union center where they knocked off No. 11 Stanford earlier in the year, without three of your top players anywhere near 100 percent.
Just look at the previous two conference matchups. In the first one up in Albany, Rider was up by 25 at the half and the Broncs were ahead for a majority of the second game until junior forward Josh Duell hit a 3-pointer from way downtown for Siena to steal the second game.
A healthy Broncs team definitely produces a different result. The team from Lawrenceville was able to avoid the injury bug all season until that fateful weekend in upstate New York.
This was a special year for the team on campus with Rider basketball actually receiving publicity across the country.
Senior forward Jason Thompson was of course the main attraction, drawing the attention of a boatload of NBA scouts and personnel to go along with a list of honors that would require a media guide of its own.
The Broncs were more than just their MAAC Player of the Year, which was why they won a school record 23 games. They had three other All-MAAC performers in Ryan Thompson, Mansell and freshman Mike Ringgold, which gave Head Coach Tommy Dempsey a supporting cast to make it happen and earn MAAC Coach of the Year. They also had a bench that made Rider a team that could go as a far as 11 deep in a game.
If they didn’t qualify for the Big Dance, while it wasn’t automatic, the feeling was that the Broncs would get an NIT bid. Dempsey thought it was possible. Even Siena Head Coach Fran McCaffrey gave Rider a vote of confidence.
Even though Rider split the regular season title, they lost the auto-bid due to a tiebreaker.
It’s a shame, because it would have been interesting to see if this year’s group could make the run to the Garden.