Saints target Broncos’ star forward Jason Thompson

Rider's Jason Thompson will likely play in the NBA some day, but for now, he's the focus of the Sien

Here he comes.

All eyes at the Times Union Center — and a few million more in TV land — will be on senior Jason Thompson when the Rider Broncs play the Siena Saints at 2 p.m. today in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Siena power forward Alex Franklin leaned against the concrete wall outside the Saints’ locker room at the Alumni Recreation Center on Thursday evening and pretty much summed up what everyone will be doing at tipoff today. The question was how to stop Thompson, and Franklin exhaled: “Phew . . . just pay attention to him.”

“We’ll have to focus on him and send some guys at him and try to keep the ball out of his hands,” Franklin said, “I guess.”

In three-plus years at Rider, the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Thompson has gone from a skilled but wispy big man to an NBA prospect projected to go as high as the low first round, but more likely the second round.

He held his own at summer camps conducted by LeBron James, Amare Stoudemire and Pete Newell last year. This season, he’s shown that he can produce against teams from any conference, outplaying Kansas State’s freshman sensation Michael Beasley and racking up 24 points and 15 rebounds against North Carolina State.

In 2006-07, he was one of just three players in the country to

average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. The others were national player of the year Kevin Durant of Texas, the No. 2 pick in the draft

after one college season, and Nevada’s Nick Fazekas, who was drafted on the second round by the Dallas Mavericks.

Although there are still the usual questions about Thompson’s NBA potential because he plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, you don’t have to convince anyone in Loudonville, after Thompson dropped 31 points and 16 rebounds on Siena in their last meeting, an 84-78 Broncs victory just over a year ago.

“He’s going to play in the league, it’s not an ‘if.’ ” Siena head coach Fran McCaffery said.

“He does everything well,” forward Josh Duell said. “He’s a cap­able shooter, he runs the floor like a deer. He gets up and down faster than anybody in the league. He’s just an overall great player, and I think that’s why the NBA scouts love him so much.”

“That’s a big thing, running the floor,” Franklin said. “Our defensive transition has to be great for this game.”

With an eight-game winning streak after beating Marist on the road on Wednesday, Rider (16-6 overall) is the hottest team in the conference and holds first place at 9-2, a half-game ahead of Siena (13-7 overall).

The Broncs are more than just an NBA-bound post man. His brother, Ryan (6-6, 210), is averaging 15.3 points per game. McCaffery believes guard Harris Mansell could make all-conference and Rider leads the league in three-point percentage (39.7).

Head coach Tommy Dempsey has used the same starting lineup in all 22 games this season.

“Over the last couple years, they’ve put all the pieces around Jason that they feel they need,” McCaffery said. “They have two point guards, a couple backup centers, two four men [power forwards] that they like, one’s a freshman, one’s a senior. They have three-point shooters in Harris Mansell and Kamron Warner and Lamar Johnson, they have one of the top players in the league, along with Jason, and that’s his brother.”

“They all complement each other real well,” Duell said. “They run a lot of four-out, one-in stuff with Thompson in the post, and you have to be careful coming off the other guys, because they can all shoot, they’ve got some guys who can slash and they all pretty much know their roles, that’s why they’re such a good team.”

The Broncs shoot a high percentage from the free throw line, too, so teams haven’t been able to settle for hacking Thompson, who is shooting 58.2 percent from the line, which is hard to believe considering he made 15 of 18 against Siena last January.

“You end up putting a good free throw shooting team in the bonus, if you just chop him,” McCaffery said. “If we did it, we might do it late in the game like everybody else.”

For all the attention paid to Thompson, Rider is going to have to figure out how to guard Kenny Hasbrouck, who had his way with the Broncs last year.

Although his shooting has tailed off in recent weeks, Hasbrouck had a career-high 36 points in the 84-78 loss and was a combined 22-for-34 (64.7 percent) for 59 points in two games against Rider last year, including a career-high 36 in the loss, when he made 14 of 20 shots.

As much as McCaffery stresses staying rooted in the present, it’s hard for the Saints to ignore their upcoming schedule.

They’ll play only two opponents over the next four games, and both — Rider and Marist — are bunched with Siena at the top of the MAAC standings.

“This four-game stretch is

crazy,” Franklin said. “I don’t know who scheduled it, but we’re going to know a lot after these four games are over.”

price reduction

Ticket prices for most of the rows in the upper deck at the Times Union Center have been discounted for the remaining four MAAC reg­ular-season games.

Seats in rows 10 and higher, with the exception of the All-You-Can-Eat Section 208, have been reduced to $8 for adults and $4 for children.

The reduced pricing coincides with the most difficult part of

Siena’s MAAC schedule. After today’s game, the Saints will play Marist on Monday, Loyola on Saturday, Feb. 16, and Niagara on Friday, Feb. 29.

In the new 8,200-seat configuration at the arena this season, with sections in the end zones tarped off, the Saints are averaging 5,227 for nine home games, not including the UAlbany game, for which all seats were open. Including the 13,262 who turned out for that game, Siena’s

average home attendance is 6,030.

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