The Siena Saints, the beast of the MAAC, were yet to be beaten in conference play until they entered the raucous Broncs Zoo on Saturday, and Rider upset the powerhouse for a 90-88 victory.
“When you beat a team that’s undefeated in the league, it shows your kids that there’s no one in the league you can’t beat,” said Head Coach Tommy Dempsey. “I think that’s confidence we’ll take all the way into the MAAC tournament.”
The Broncs erased a 13-point deficit midway through the final half to slay the Saints. Two days later, Rider displayed a dominating second-half performance to take down Marist on the road, 74-61, improving its record to 14-9 and 9-4 in the conference.
Siena entered the matchup 18-5 overall and a perfect 12-0 in the MAAC, but that was just a small piece of its impressive puzzle. The Saints boasted an RPI rank of 20th best in the country and the 39th strongest schedule. Overall, Siena came into the contest as the 38th best team in the nation, according to the Associated Press.
Capping off their résumé, the Saints possessed three pre-season First Team All MAAC selections in senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, junior swingman Edwin Ubiles and junior forward Alex Franklin. This didn’t faze the Broncs, and it made the victory that much bigger.
The first half consisted of a seesaw battle, with neither team jumping to a significant advantage or able to pull away. Siena’s largest lead was four, a margin they held only a minute and a half into the ball game. That advantage quickly dissolved as Rider went on a 10-0 run, grabbing their first lead of the contest, 13-7. Senior guard Harris Mansell jump-started the stretch, knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers, and sophomore forward Mike Ringgold punctuated the run with a layup.
The Broncs carried a four-point lead into the break after finishing the half on a 13-7 push. The back-and-forth frame contained seven lead changes and six ties, leaving the question of who would jump out first in the second half.
The Saints answered that question, creating a 17-4 run, and taking a 60-48 lead. Rider trailed 71-58 with only 8:58 left in regulation, their largest deficit, but the Broncs proved they had a comeback in them.
“We all rallied together, and our defense got big stops at big times,” said junior point guard Ryan Thompson.
Rider ignited a monstrous 21-4 run in a matter of five minutes, regaining the lead 79-75. Sophomore guard Justin Robinson scored nine points during the stretch, draining three baskets from long range.
Siena rebounded and eventually tied the game at 88-88 on a layup with 37 seconds remaining in the contest, setting the stage for who else but Thompson. The do-it-all swingman held the ball at midcourt, letting the clock run into its final seconds, and finally drove hard to his right and cashed in the game-winning layup, sending Alumni Gym into a frenzy.
“It was Ryan’s time,” Dempsey said. “He wanted the ball and he delivered.”
“I waited until there was about five seconds left and then I made my move,” said Thompson. “I was able to get by [Ubiles] and the shot was open and I made it.”
The Broncs exhibited their best shooting performance of the season, going 33-60 (.55 percent) from the field and 11-19 (.57 percent) from three, both season highs.
“We just had good focus and we worked the ball very well,” said Dempsey. “We had a season high 21 assists so when you work the ball well, you get good shots.”
Rider placed five players in double figures with Robinson leading the way, pouring in a career-high 25 points while freshman and five-time MAAC Rookie of the Week Novar Gadson dropped in 17.
The Broncs carried over the momentum into Monday’s matchup against a struggling Marist squad on a seven-game losing streak. The Red Foxes (7-19, 3-11 MAAC) led the MAAC in three-point shooting (.37 percent) and looked sharp in the first half.
Marist controlled the game prior to the break, grabbing double-digit leads four times, one of those being an 11-point advantage. The Broncs slowly chipped away and cut the deficit to seven at the half, 42-35.
Rider quickly regained the lead only four minutes into the second frame, starting the half on a 13-5 spurt. The Red foxes answered back, taking a 55-53 advantage with 10:39 left in regulation, but the Broncs did what they’ve done so well: closed out a game. Rider finished the contest on a 21-6 run, 12 points coming from Thompson, and the Broncs cruised to victory.
Rider completely dismantled Marist in the second half, outscoring them 39-19 and holding the Red Foxes to 22 percent shooting.
“I think in the first half, the guys thought this game was going to be a little bit easier, but in the second half we regrouped and played like we were capable of,” said Dempsey.
Thompson, the MAAC’s second leading scorer (17.4 ppg.) led the Broncs in scoring for the 15th game this season, dropping 27 points and snatching nine rebounds. Ringgold chipped in 18 points and pulled down 10 boards for his third double-double of the ’08-’09 campaign, while Robinson continued his outstanding play, helping out with 11 points.
The Broncs have now won five of their last six games, and look to win their fourth straight on Friday when they take on Saint Peter’s at 8 p.m. at Sovereign Bank Arena.