By Kim Leder
A sold-out Broncs’ Zoo was just the beginning of an epic weekend for the men’s basketball team. Rider clinched two MAAC games starting with last Friday’s match-up against Loyola (13-11, 7-5 MAAC) and wrapping it up with Fairfield (18-5, 11-2 MAAC) on Sunday.
Freshman Danny Stewart made a foul shot with 3.5 seconds left in the game, sealing the 61-60 victory over the Greyhounds before the Broncs stormed into Fairfield, upending the league-leading Stags, 96-87.
Rider begins another critical weekend in conference play tonight. The Broncs are back in the Zoo as they host Canisius, which has never defeated Rider in Alumni Gym. Canisius is 12-11, with a losing conference record of 6-7.
On Sunday, the Broncs take on Niagara as the Purple Eagles pay a visit to the Lawrenceville campus. Niagara holds a season record of only 5-20, with its conference record being 2-11.
Against the Greyhounds, the Broncs bounced back after initially trailing. The final buzzer could not drone out the screams of the roaring crowd. Rider managed to score eight straight points after being behind 59-52 to take a one- point lead. Two of them were scored by Stewart, leaving the remaining six to be made by senior Justin Robinson. This landed them a 60-59 lead with only 49 seconds left to go.
Over all, Robinson finished with 15 points, 10 of which were made in the final 6:51 while Stewart contributed 13 points and six rebounds.
Friday’s game was also a big night for junior Novar Gadson who led the team with 17 points, including the 1,000th of his career. At the start of the night, he only needed three points to reach his goal and did so with a three-point field goal just 1:36 into the game.
“[I thought] I played really well,” Gadson said. “I made solid decisions and took what the defense gave me.”
Junior Brandon Penn added 10 points and six rebounds for Rider while sophomore Jonathon Thompson added four points, four assists and zero turnovers.
Thompson leads the MAAC and ranks eighth in the nation in assist-turnover ratio.
The Broncs out-scored Loyola (MD) 10-2 to start the second half to take a 41-37 lead, Rider’s first lead since 18-17. They out-scored the Greyhounds 9-4 over the final 4:21 of the first half which cut into Loyola’s halftime lead
“The win against Loyola was huge,” Penn said. “They’ve beat us five times so it was good to get a quality win over them.”
Rider continued its hot streak on Sunday against Fairfield, becoming the best-ever road team in school history with an 11-4 record away from home.
Leading Rider were Robinson and Gadson, who scored a combined 47 points for the game.
While holding a 75-72 lead, Rider went on a 12-3 run, four points by Thompson, helping seal the contest. He finished with 13 points, six assists, four steals and three blocked shots.
Rider ended Fairfield’s six-game winning streak and it was only its second loss since Thanksgiving.
“We came out ready,” said Penn. “In order for us to have a chance to win the regular season title, we couldn’t let them sweep us. That win was big for us and made a statement that we are here and ready to win the championship.”
To start the second half, Rider out-scored Fairfield 10-5, seven of which were made by Gadson, to take a 57-35 lead with 16:37 left. With a 21-17 lead, Rider had a 16-4 run, 12 points scored by Robinson, helping Rider take a 47-30 lead at intermission.
Scoring 17 points for the Broncs was senior Mike Ringgold, who chipped in a career-high seven foul shots out 13. Robinson only missed one of his 10 free throws from the line as Rider made a season high 30 of 42 foul shots, including 18 of 23 in the final 8:19 of the game.
Stewart added 11 points and nine rebounds and freshman Anthony Myles added eight points.
“[The team] has been playing very well,” said Penn. “We are doing a great job in understanding our roles.”
Gadson understands what has to be done this weekend.
“We need to just buy into what our game plan is as far as scouting,” said Gadson. “As a team we will approach the game and execute.”