By Kristie Kahl
Without one of Rider’s star athletes, some have pondered the future of the men’s basketball program.
But with the 2008-09 team’s 3-2 start, the Broncs seem to be on the right track without their former power forward, Jason Thompson.
With Thompson, Rider was able to clinch first place in the regular season in the conference with a 13-5 MAAC record while advancing to the MAAC Championship game for the second time in four years. The team also claimed a 23-11 record, the most wins ever for the program and for the MAAC that year.
Individually, Thompson was the MAAC Player of the Year and MAAC Defensive Player of the Year while contributing an average of 12.1 rebounds, 2.7 blocked shots, 20.4 points and a .560 field goal percentage per game. In his four years at Rider, Thompson compiled over 2,000 points, 1,100 rebounds and 24 double-doubles.
Looking back on Thompson’s career, there is no doubt he did great things for the Broncs. As he is now doing great things for the Sacramento Kings, the men’s basketball program is moving on to what could be a successful season.
At this time last season, Rider also had a 3-2 record. Granted, the 2007-08 team seemed to compete against a harder schedule in the beginning, but the Broncs still seem to be going in the right direction with their adjustments in the line-up.
“We play a smaller group, and because of that we have to press more, trap more and do things to get the game moving at our speed,” Dempsey said. “We like to play fast, we like to run and you just can’t rely on Jason to get every rebound anymore. The guys really have to commit to game rebounding, which means that everyone just has to get some.”
In the season opener, the Broncs fell to St. Joe’s 69-57. Even with the defeat, Rider was still able to out-rebound the Hawks 36-34. One problem the Broncs had was committing too many turnovers with 15. Despite a defeat, Rider came out strong, showing immense potential for the season.
The Broncs came back from their first loss, claiming a 69-68 victory over Lehigh in a come-from-behind win. Senior Lamar Johnson came up big for the Broncs with 20 points — including six 3-point field goals — and a game-saving block in the closing seconds of the game. With senior Harris Mansell out with an elbow injury, Johnson stepped up to the guard position, doing great things for the win. Over the past few games, the Broncs have proven their abilities to step into situations without question while producing positive results.
In an 84-77 win over Lafayette, the Broncs were able to come back from a double-digit deficit in the second half. Between Rider’s two wins in the beginning of the season, the team has proven its capability to come back from tough situations. Although the Broncs struggled from the foul line, making only 14 of 25 shots, the team was able to out-rebound Lafayette 40-37.
“I think we know how to win,” Dempsey said. “I think that an important part in growing your program is you’re learning how to win close games, learning how to win on the road, learning how to come from behind. And each game we had on the road we were trailing. I think [our comebacks] were just a sign of a team that won a lot of games over the past couple of years, a team who knows how to win. I think those are very important elements as you go forward.”
For the Broncs’ third victory of the season, Rider overtook Cal State Northridge, 85-72. The Broncs out-rebounded Northridge 46-35, showing yet again their strength in rebounding without Thompson.
On Wednesday night, the Broncs fell to Rutgers 66-62 in a close match between the RUs. Despite the loss, Rider shined, outscoring Rutgers 40-24 in the paint and out-rebounding the Scarlet Knights 44-31.
With their 3-2 record so far in the season, the Broncs have spread the ball around, allowing multiple leaders to emerge within the team. Junior Ryan Thompson leads the team with 94 points and 43 rebounds, earning himself two double-doubles out of five games. Despite the elbow injury keeping him from two games, Mansell has posted 48 points — helping him reach 1,000 career points — and 17 rebounds. Rookie Novar Gadson has found comfort on the court, compiling 54 points, 21 rebounds, four steals and two blocks. Sophomore Mike Ringgold has claimed more than 40 points, adding a career-high 22 points for the Broncs in their loss to Rutgers.
A consistent strength that is clearly visible from the five games played is rebounding for Rider. The Broncs have out-rebounded four out of their five opponents in their opening schedule. After losing the top rebounder, Rider has had no trouble filling the position. Rather than relying on the consistency of one star, the entire team has stepped up for the role, which is a strength Rider will need going into the start of its MAAC schedule.
“We are just trying to get ready for the league,” Dempsey said. “I think the MAAC is going to be very competitive, and those teams are off to a great start. But we hope to compete in the upper echelon of the league and we have a few more non-league games to help prepare us for the MAAC schedule.”
As the Broncs strive toward their conference schedule, they have room to improve on the foul line as well as decreasing their turnovers. These are minor problems for the program, but if perfected, the team will continue to reach success.
From the look of things, the Broncs seem to be off to the right start. If the team continues to spread the ball around with rebounding and aggression through multiple players stepping into leadership positions each week, the Broncs certainly will not fall short for the year.
“We are pleased where we are right now, but we have a lot of work ahead of us to get to where we want to be, and that is at the top of the MAAC,” Dempsey said.