By Charles Guthrie
ALBANY, N.Y.- Tonight just wasn’t their night.
Every time the Broncs’ toughness has been put to the test, they have responded. After losing three straight and looking as if they might let the MAAC slip away from them, they closed out the season with three consecutive wins. With three starters down against Canisius at different points in the game and MAAC Player of the Year Jason Thompson in foul trouble; they pulled out the win. The next night when Marist rolled into the break, it appeared the cranberry and white’s amazing season was drawing to a close; they responded in the second half.
But No. 1 seeded Siena (22-10) was too strong and the chamber was empty for No. 2 Rider (23-10) as the Saints ran away with a 74-53 victory in the MAAC Championship game Monday night.
“We just didn’t have it tonight for whatever reason,” Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said. “I thought our kids were fighting hard, I think last night’s win took a lot out of us emotionally and physically. I just didn’t think we had it in the tank for whatever reason.”
Siena’s full-court pressure defense took the MAAC’s leading scoring team out of its rhythm, forcing 16 turnovers, leading to 21 points off those mistakes, and held the Broncs to a season low 53 points.
“I would say this game and the Boise State game were the best defensive games we’ve had in terms of collective efforts for 40 minutes,” Siena Head Coach Fran McCaffery said. “We referred to it as an up game. We’re up full court, we’re up in the passing lanes, we’re up pressuring shooters, we’re up in front of Jason Thompson. If we’re going to get beat, they’re going to have to go through us.”
Senior guard Tay Fisher had the hot hand for the Saints and gave the Broncs fits all night behind the arc, connecting on six 3-pointers. There was nothing stopping Siena’s senior guard, who was nailing threes with Rider defenders contesting his shots with hands right in his face, bringing the 9,279 members of the pro-Siena crowd to their feet.
“I told my teammates I was going to do my best out there and give it my all,” Fisher said.
The Saints’ explosive trio of junior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, sophomore guard Edwin Ubiles and sophomore forward Alex Franklin were all in double-figures and combined for 42 points.
It looked as if the top two teams in the MAAC were in for a dogfight for the automatic bid into the Big Dance until Siena went on an 18-8 run in the final 6:14 of the first half to take a 41-30 lead at the break. Ubiles had 11 points and Fisher hit four threes and had 15 of his team-high 21 points in the half.
Rider would claw its way back early in the second half and would cut the deficit to nine when old reliable senior guard Kamron Warner, who’s been a major factor off the bench down the Broncs’ stretch run, made a 3-pointer with 10:23 left to play.
That would be as close as Rider would come as Siena ripped off an amazing 20-2 run led by Hasbrouck, the MAAC Tournament MVP, and extended its lead to an insurmountable 24 points.
After scoring only four points in the first half, Hasbrouck’s mid-range jumper was on the spot as he went 5-8 from the field for 14 points in the second half.
“In the second half they just made big shot after big shot,” Dempsey said. “Siena played terrific. They played inspired.”
Thompson, who scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for his 22nd double-double of the season, made the All-Tournament team with junior guard Harris Mansell.
“I thought Jason played great,” Dempsey said. “He showed a lot of grit. He certainly wanted to take his team and his University to the NCAA tournament, and I thought that was on display tonight. He gave a great effort and did everything he could to keep us in the game.”
With Siena advancing to the NCAA Tournament, Rider has a shot of making the NIT since it finished runner-up in the tourney.
Rider’s big man came out of the game with 2:38 left and received a standing ovation along with a “Jason Thompson” chant from the Bronc faithful. Applause could even be heard from the hostile Siena fans.
It wasn’t the way Thompson wanted to end his record-breaking career and he wants to have one more go-around with his team.
“I just hope my college career isn’t over,” Thompson said. “We tied for the regular season championship, we have 23 wins, so I think we should have a shot at the NIT.”
McCaffery told Dempsey after the game that the Broncs deserve the bid. Based on what his group has done during their magical run, the man running the Rider bench agrees.
“I feel we deserve it with the season we had,” Dempsey said. “To win a school-record 23 games, to beat a Big Ten and a Big East team, with an NBA first-round pick that should be showcased in the NIT, I think we should be in the NIT.”
MAAC All-Tournament Team: Thompson and junior guard Harris Mansell for Rider. Fisher, Ubiles and Franklin for Siena.
-Hasbrouck: MVP of MAAC Tournament
-Thompson averaged 24 points and 12.7 rebounds in three tournament games.
-Thompson was the only Bronc in double figures. Freshman forward Mike Ringgold had eight points and four boards, and Mansell and Griffin had five each.
-Fisher made a career-high six 3-pointers and had a career-high five rebounds last night, which was also his birthday.