By Jordan Hall
The Saints are at it again. Siena played its usual role of culprit on Friday Nov. 26, and Rider was yet again one of its victims. The three-time defending league champs delivered a killer run to capture the first MAAC contest of the season, 73-60, snapping the Broncs’ four-game winning streak. Monday didn’t prove any better for Rider as Hofstra handed it its second straight defeat, 58-48, but the Broncs bounced back, thrashing Manhattan Thursday night, 88-59.
Rider (4-3, 0-1 MAAC) entered the early conference matchup playing quality basketball, sporting a 4-1 record and earning wins against USC and Loyola Marymount. The Saints (2-4, 1-0 MAAC) came to Lawrenceville with a 1-3 mark in four tough non-conference tests, but the start of MAAC competition, an area of their expertise the past three years, sparked Siena.
“They’ve won a lot of games in this league over the past few years so they play with a lot of confidence whether they’re at home or on the road,” said head coach Tommy Dempsey.
Rider looked sharp early but the Saints provided answers when the Broncs threatened to increase their lead. The first half was evenly contested, consisting of seven lead changes and four ties. The largest margin of the opening frame was five points, held by Rider three times, one being the score at the break, 36-31.
The back-and-forth half suggested a down-to-the-wire finish, but Siena changed that. With the Broncs holding an early 47-44 lead in the final stanza, Siena constructed its typical second-half surge. The Saints ignited a 20-1 run that stymied Rider and ultimately decided the outcome.
“To beat a team like Siena you have to play well for 40 minutes and we had a stretch when we didn’t play well and it cost us the game,” Dempsey said.
Siena’s knock-out blow was orchestrated by the league’s best 1-2 scoring punch. The MAAC’s leading scorer (20.2 ppg.) and America’s top rebounder (14.5 rpg.), senior Ryan Rossiter, scored four points during the spree, while senior two-guard Clarence Jackson, the conference’s second-highest scorer (17.7 ppg.), cashed in two three-pointers, his second punctuating the spurt.
Rider couldn’t recover and its crisp and fluid offense became stagnant. The Broncs suffered their first loss since their season opener at UMass following a blistering four-game span in which they shot the lights out. Rider opened the Siena game a remarkable second in the country in three-point field goal percentage. After shooting 50 percent from the floor in the first half, the Broncs posted a 26.7 percent in the second frame.
Junior Brandon Penn dropped a team-high 14 points and led the Broncs with nine rebounds, while Rider’s leading scorer, senior Justin Robinson, netted 12 points.
Rossiter finished with 18 points and snatched 17 boards, and Jackson chipped in with 15 points on 3-4 shooting from beyond the arc.
In Rider’s attempt to rebound from its second defeat, the Broncs’ shooting touch proved to be human against the Pride (3-3) at Alumni Gym. In a televised matchup on Comcast SportsNet, Hofstra presented Rider with a zone defense and the Broncs’ offensive attack never got in rhythm.
“We’re not going to play well every night and there are nights when we don’t play well that we have to find ways to win,” Dempsey said. “We’re still a developing unit.”
Rider misfired on its first 11 three-point attempts and shot 3-16 from deep in the opening half. Trailing 24-8 with under five minutes remaining before the break, Rider coordinated a 12-4 run to trim the Pride’s halftime lead to 28-20 as Robinson sank three shots from long range in less than four minutes.
The Broncs rode the momentum and, midway through the second half, Penn knotted the score on a drive and layup, but Hofstra countered. Charles Jenkins, one of the nation’s elite shooting guards and scorers (21.6 ppg.), retaliated. The 6’3” guard knocked down a jumper and canned a three-pointer, stretching the Pride’s lead back to five, forcing Dempsey to call a timeout. Rider never got any closer.
“We tried to keep the ball out of his hands as much as we could and then when he got the ball, we tried to make him become a passer,” Dempsey said.
The Broncs struggled from start to finish, setting game lows in points scored (48), field goal percentage (34 percent, 20-59), three-point field goal percentage (21 percent, 6-28), free throws made (2) and assists (10).
The two lone bright spots for Rider were its leading scorers. Robinson continued his torrid shooting, connecting on five of Rider’s six three-pointers made and ended with 17 points, while senior Mike Ringgold notched a double-double, placing in 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Jenkins has led Hofstra in the point column all six of its games including the win over the Broncs, pouring in a game-high 19 points.
Next up for Rider stands its tallest task of the season: visiting third-ranked Pittsburgh Saturday at 2 p.m.
“It’s certainly a big challenge,” Dempsey said. “They’re one of the best, if not the best team in the country.”