After two come-from-behind victories, the Broncs wasted no time getting started on Saturday, Nov. 29, for their highly anticipated home opener. Rider jumped out of the gates against Cal State Northridge in the first half and never looked back, defeating the Matadors 85-72. A few days later, the Broncs fell to state rival Rutgers in a 66-62 defeat.
The Broncs played arguably their best game so far against an impressive Cal State Northridge squad. The Matadors were selected to finish first in the Big West Conference and move onto the NCAA tournament by the league coaches and media.
This didn’t faze Rider, as the Broncs fell early in the first frame, 8-6, but went on an 11-2 run and never trailed for the rest of the game. Rider looked sharp in the first half, taking a 41-31 lead into the break.
Preseason First Team All-MAAC selection junior Ryan Thompson dropped 15 points in the frame, two of them coming off an authoritative one-hand dunk over a Cal State Northridge defender that sent the crowd into a frenzy. The swingman received the ball near half court on a fast break with a defender riding him on his left side. Thompson took the ball strong with his right hand and soared off one foot, slamming it home.
The Broncs carried the momentum into the second half, outscored the Matadors 10-4 early on, and, with 10 minutes left in the game, sported their biggest lead of the day at 17 points. Cal State Northridge cut the deficit to nine with 1:18 left in regulation, but it was too little, too late as Rider put the nail in the coffin, capturing its third straight victory.
“This was a quality win for us,” said Head Coach Tommy Dempsey. “We played very physical and Cal State Northridge is the type of team we’re going to have to beat to win the conference this year.”
The win boosted the Broncs to 3-1 on the campaign, tuning themselves for state rival Rutgers. For the first time this season, Rider entered the game completely healthy.
Thompson, who was ranked as one of the top 30 swingmen in the country by CBSSports.com, poured in a game-high 25 points and snatched nine boards. Senior Harris Mansell chipped in with 14, while sophomore Mike Ringgold and freshman Novar Gadson, both Philadelphia natives, helped out with 10 apiece.
On Wednesday, the red-hot Broncs faced Rutgers at Sovereign Bank Arena for the battle of the RUs. The Big East foe entered the matchup 4-2 overall, second in the nation in blocks per game (10.2) and 23rd in the country in field goal defense percentage (35.9).
However, the Scarlet Knights’ greatest asset goes by the name of Mike Rosario. The freshman sensation is the first-ever McDonald’s all American to play at Rutgers and was ranked by ESPN as the 16th best freshman prospect and fifth best at the shooting guard position.
He and the rest of the Scarlet Knights took a page out of Rider’s playbook, staging a late comeback and pulling off the nail biting 66-62 victory. Rider rode a 15-4 run late in the first half to a 30-20 lead and eventually went into the break up eight, 36-28.
The Broncs continued to impress in the second frame until Rutgers struck. Rider held a comfortable 10-point advantage with 13 minutes left in the game, before the Scarlet Knights went on a 13-2 run, erasing the deficit and grabbing a one-point lead.
The Broncs answered, taking the advantage by three, 60-57, before Rutgers ignited its final push. Rider held Rosario scoreless in the last eight and a half minutes of the contest, but other Scarlet Knights delivered. Senior Anthony Farmer knocked down a game-tying three and then sophomore Earl Pettis landed two knock-out punches, drilling a pair of 3 -pointers to seal the victory.
“Rosario single-handedly kept them in the game, so we decided to face guard him for the final eight minutes to take him out, but give credit to Pettis,” Dempsey said. “He stepped up and made two big threes.”
The Broncs displayed superb effort and received a tremendous performance from Ringgold. The Roman Catholic graduate cashed in a career-high 22 points, and pulled down 12 rebounds, while Thompson put up 15 points, six boards and four assists. Two-time MAAC Rookie of the Week Gadson chipped in 10 and Mansell snatched a career-best 11 rebounds. Rosario finished with a game-high 25 for Rutgers.
“We were very disappointed,” Dempsey said. “We thought we outplayed Rutgers for the majority of the game, but we weren’t able to close. We learned a valuable lesson that the final 10 minutes of the game are the most important. This was a good learning experience.”
The Broncs look to rebound on Sunday as they take on Manhattan for their first taste of MAAC competition. Tip off is at 2 p.m. in Alumni Gym.