By Hal Goodwin
Waves of Rider fans made the four-hour trip up I-87 to the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., with hopes to witness school history as the Broncs competed in the MAAC Tournament for the conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Going into the weekend, fans had a lot to be excited about.
Naturally, there was tremendous hype surrounding senior Jason Thompson, Rider’s 6’11, big man and a potential first-round pick in this year’s NBA draft.
However, equally important, and perhaps unknown to many fans, were several stellar accomplishments the team had achieved this season. The Broncs won a school record 21 regular season games, shot their way to a top ten rank nationally in shooting and at one point owned the fourth longest win streak in the nation.
They also earned a spot on collegeinsider.com’s Mid-Major Top 25, finishing the season ranked 23rd.
Students are delighted with the team’s recent success and are equally excited about the program’s future.
Dan Del Guercio, an American Studies major, has followed the team throughout his four years here and is pleased with the transformation he’s witnessed in the team.
“My freshman year in ’04, the team was great when we had Jerry Johnson,” said Del Guercio. “The next year the team’s record suffered a bit, but we’ve since gotten a lot of good recruits and the team is competing at a high level.”
In their first game of the tournament, the Broncs squeaked by tenth-seeded Canisius 75-71 before taking out last year’s MAAC Champs, Marist, in the semis 76-71, en route to a finals appearance versus Siena.
Unfortunately for Rider, injuries plagued the team early in the tournament, as three starters — Ryan Thompson, Harris Mansell and Justin Robinson — went down against Canisius. The team would not be able to fully recover and it would eventually lose to Siena in the tournament finale 74-53.
Sean Pantellere, a Rider senior, took the rigorous bus trip to Albany to cheer on the Broncs all three days Rider played in the tournament.
“Saturday’s game where Ryan, Justin and Harris got hurt was a disappointment, but I’m glad we were able to pull that one out,” said Pantellere. “I thought they played well though, especially Sunday, when Jason had 32 points and 18 rebounds; that was an awesome game. To at least get to see us play in the championship was pretty big. Once the game was out of hand it was disappointing, but it was great just to get the experience of going up there.”
Part of the experience Pantellere spoke of was the tumultuous eight-hour, round trip bus ride the fans endured each day they went to a game.
“It was tough; you’re all crammed in there, but I went up with a bunch of my friends,” Pantellere said. “There were eight of us the first two days and for the championship I think there were 12 of us so we had a lot of fun. It’s not very often you get to do something like that.”
Even though the Broncs came up just one win short of an NCAA berth, Rider’s fans like senior communication major Chris Manthey, who has kept up with the team over his four years as a Bronc, are savvy enough to realize what their team accomplished this season will benefit the basketball program in the future.
“It’s really great that Rider is starting to get a some national attention,” Manthey said. “The [basketball] team has done a lot of great things this year. Jason obviously is graduating, but there are a lot of underclassmen on the team to keep building the program up.”