With just a half-game lead in the MAAC, the Rider men’s basketball team went out to the Times Union Center in Loudonville, N.Y. last Saturday and showed on national television that it was the top dog with an impressive 89-75 win.
Rider (17-6 overall, 10-2 MAAC) imposed its will on Siena (13-8 overall, 8-3 MAAC), outscoring it 59-34 in the first half, when the Broncs shot 61.5 percent from the field, including 8-12 from three-point range.
“I thought we really shared the ball well and took good quality shots,” Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said. “We shot a very high percentage and I thought we took high-percentage shots. It was the ball movement, the unselfishness and the quality of shots we got.”
The 59 points set a Rider first-half record, breaking the previous record of 58 points set in 1995 against Long Island University.
“That’s how we try to have every night,” Dempsey said. “To do that, you have to play up-tempo and that’s a style that we’re very comfortable with and that’s the way we practice every day. If we can get the game moving, we can win in transition.”
In a game where the Broncs never trailed, they pounced on the Saints from the opening tip, accumulating an 18-point lead just over 12 minutes into the first half.
After sophomore Alex Franklin hit a layup to cut the lead to 31-17, Rider went on an 11-0 run to increase its lead to 25. The run started with three-pointers by freshman guard Justin Robinson and junior guard Harris Mansell. Sophomore guard Ryan Thompson picked up the remaining five points, capping off the run with a three-point play.
After the teams traded baskets, junior guard Lamar Johnson hit a three-pointer in the corner with three seconds left for the last basket of the half and kept the Rider lead at what would be an insurmountable 25 points.
Johnson was key off the bench in the first half with eight points. He shot 3-6 from the field for the game, including 2-4 from 3-point range.
The Broncs dominated inside the paint, outscoring the Saints 28-8 in that category, and had 12 second-chance points to Siena’s three.
Senior forward Jason Thompson opened the second half with a jumper, giving Rider its largest lead of the game at 27, but Siena, which shot 57.7 percent in the second half and 5-9 from behind the arc, staged a comeback and made the game interesting.
Down 25 with over 15 minutes left to play, Siena went on a 27-11 run, and a 3-pointer by Edwin Ubiles with 5:48 left cut Rider’s previously enormous lead to eight, the closest Siena came during the game.
After more back-and-forth play, Siena closed within nine points of the Broncs with 2:18 remaining, but Rider went on a 7-2 run to close out the game.
Rider out-rebounded Siena 46-21, including 14-3 on the offensive glass, and is now 13-1 when it out-rebounds the opponent.
“We’re great as a team when we get rebounds, especially [offensive rebounds],” Jason Thompson said. “One of our goals was getting stops and winning on the glass.”
The Broncs, who came into the game with the 17th best field goal percentage in the nation, shot nearly 54 percent and had all five starters score double-digits.
They were led by Jason Thompson, who finished the game with a double-double on a whopping 23 points and a Rider record 21-rebound performance. That was his 14th double-double of the season, and the 44th of his illustrious career.
“They didn’t have much size inside so I tried to take advantage of that,” Thompson said. “They weren’t double-teaming me so I took advantage of that and started scoring over their big men. Once I started getting hot, they double-teamed me and my teammates were open so once they start hitting shots we’re a tough team to play against.”
He’s now second in the MAAC in scoring with 20 points per game, and first in the MAAC in rebounding with 11.5 per game.
Thompson, who is expected by many analysts to be a prime pick for the upcoming NBA Draft, has shone the brightest when ESPN has been in town, averaging 23 points and 10.7 rebounds when the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” has been present.
“Being a mid-major school we don’t get to be on national TV a lot,” he said. “Most guys would say that they get more nervous in games like that, but I get energized and real excited. People throughout the country get to see me play and I just want to show people that I can play and earn some respect that I deserve.”
Because of his efforts, Thompson won MAAC Player of the Week for the sixth time this season.
Ryan Thompson, who is sixth in the MAAC in scoring, was 7-12 from the field for 20 points, and also had five assists and five boards. Robinson shot 5-9 for 12 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
Mansell scored 13 points ,and freshman forward Mike Ringgold added 10 points with five rebounds.
For Siena, guard Kenny Hasbrouck, who is seventh in the MAAC in scoring, led the team with 23 points. Ubiles, who is fifth in the MAAC in scoring, had 18 points on 8-11 shooting.
The Broncs have now won five straight road games for the first time since the 1973-74 season. This was their ninth straight win, the fourth longest current streak in Division-I play, and their longest since winning 10 games in 1983-84.
Now 10-2 in the MAAC, this is the Broncs’ best start ever in the conference.
The Broncs were named The Sporting News Team of the Week after knocking off Marist and Siena on the road.
The Broncs also made an appearance in the Associated Press poll, receiving one vote.
“It’s an honor to be mentioned with some of the best teams in the country,” Dempsey said.
Rider looks to continue the streak into this weekend with two crucial home games against Niagara and Siena. The Broncs will play Niagara tonight at 7 and Siena on Sunday at 3 p.m, both in Alumni Gym.
“I think every game in the MAAC is a big game,” Jason Thompson said. “Coming in, I’m really excited with two big home games that determine where we finish in the standings, so if we win we should be solid.”
Dempsey said the players are feeling good about themselves during the streak and will be ready for the weekend.
“I think we have a lot of confidence,” he said. “But the biggest challenge that I have is to keep this team on edge and [have them] take nothing for granted and know that we are in first place right now.
“Teams are going to come in here and give us their best shot and that we’re ready to respond to that. Our team is pretty mature so we will handle it well.”