By Corey Donetz
Rider basketball took down a big name for the second straight year this past week after the Broncs upset the USC Trojans, 77-57. Rider lost its season opener to UMass, 67-77, in its first game of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament but quickly rebounded with an 80-73 victory over Lafayette.
Rider (2-1) traveled across the country to take on Pac-10 elite USC on Wednesday. The Trojans (2-1) came into the game with back-to-back 13-point victories over UC Irvine and Santa Clara. USC were 11-point favorites over the Broncs.
“This was a huge win for us because it showed people that we can play with big-time schools,” said senior Justin Robinson.
Rider started off the game on a 15-6 run that included buckets by five different Broncs. USC fought back to tie it at 21, but it was short lived as Robinson broke the tie with a three-pointer.
Robinson finished with a game-high 28 points, shooting an astounding 9-10 from the field and an equally impressive 5-5 from long range. Robinson’s 28 points now give him 1,022 for his brilliant Rider career.
“My teammates did a great job of getting me open and getting me the ball,” Robinson said. “I just wanted to keep being aggressive.”
The three-pointer by Robinson was the beginning of another 15-6 run by the Broncs, this one to close the first half with Rider leading 36-27. Much like the game against Lafayette, Rider’s bench was a huge factor with 11 points in the first half.
The start of the second half was also the start of yet another run, 12-3, for Rider. It gave the Broncs a 48-30 lead with just over 15 minutes of play remaining.
USC made a push and was able to cut the lead down to 13, but was quickly silenced by an 11-0 Broncs run that began with a timely three-pointer from junior Novar Gadson.
Gadson was in foul trouble for most of the game and only played 13 minutes, but was still able to contribute 10 points in that limited time. Rider’s lead peaked at 67-42 and was just too steep for USC to climb back.
Rider closed the game by not turning over the ball and making their free throws down the stretch. Senior Mike Ringgold had eight points and a game-high seven assists, setting up a lot of open shots for Rider’s perimeter players.
The Broncs finished the game with an impressive 12-19 (63.2 percent) from three-point range, and shot 60 percent from the field. Senior Jhamar Youngblood played 24 quality minutes without recording a single turnover and also had seven points and tied for the team high with five rebounds. Junior Brandon Penn and freshman Danny Stewart each had six points and combined for nine rebounds.
Friday night’s game against UMass (2-0) couldn’t have started out any better for the Broncs; they were firing on all cylinders and didn’t trail the Minutemen for the entire first half. A barrage of three-pointers sparked Rider’s offense early as five different players hit three-point shots within the first 10 minutes of the game. The outside play mixed with the great inside play had Rider looking unstoppable.
Rider had 14 points in the paint, 11 points off turnovers and 20 points off the bench in the first half.
“We were excited to play,” said Youngblood. “Last season didn’t go too well and we just were ready to get back at it.”
The Broncs finished the half on an 11-4 run, ending it with Rider holding a dominant 45-24 advantage.
UMass started the second half on a 14-3 run and gradually chipped away at the deficit. The once insurmountable 21-point lead was suddenly trimmed to five with just under 11 minutes of play remaining.
For UMass, senior Anthony Gurley finished with a game-high 31 points and sophomore Freddie Riley was right behind him, scoring 28. The two players were a combined 9-16 from three, and once UMass took the lead it made sure it would stay intact.
“We didn’t have the same passion as we did in the first half,” said Youngblood. UMass turned a 21-point deficit to a 10-point advantage with about three minutes left in regulation. Much of the blame for the blown lead were the 16 turnovers by Rider. Ringgold led the Broncs with 21 points and nine rebounds. Gadson and Robinson added 13 and 12, respectively.
Rider was looking to rebound from the tough loss to UMass with its home opener against the Leopards of Lafayette (1-2) on Sunday.
Rider jumped out to an early lead and held on for most of the game, until a 14-2 run by Lafayette in the second half gave them a 61-58 edge. Rider answered with a 15-2 run of its own and held on for the 80-73 victory.
Ringgold scored on a lay-up to give Rider a 9-6 lead. The basket gave Ringgold 1,000 points for his collegiate career. Ringgold finished the game with six points and six rebounds; Robinson had a team high 18 points and five assists.
“Both of these guys have been real special for us,” said head coach Tommy Dempsey.
Rider received a huge boost from its three freshmen, who accounted for 25 points. The freshman class was led by Stewart, who had nine points and a game-high eight rebounds.
Rider travels to Massachusetts to play TCU (2-0) Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Loyola Marymount (1-2) Sunday at noon to finish off the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off.