Broncos’ star Jason Thompson bucks Saints

NBA prospect Jason Thompson lives up to his billing and gets plenty of support from his teammates as
Alex Franklin of Siena (42) shoots for two against Rider University at the Times Union Center Saturday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Alex Franklin of Siena (42) shoots for two against Rider University at the Times Union Center Saturday.

It was Paul Bunyan-type stuff — Jason Thompson almost outrebounded the entire Siena team on Saturday afternoon, each with 21.

And still, his coach’s favorite stat was the five assists his 6-foot-11,

250-pound NBA-bound center had at the Times Union Center, showing how versatile Thompson is and how complete the Rider University team is around him.

The Broncs dominated the Saints by scoring a school-record 59 points in the first half, then weathered a spirited comeback to beat Siena,

89-75, before a crowd of 6,432 and a national TV audience on ESPN2.

All five of Rider’s starters reached double figures, led by Thompson with 23, as the Broncs won their ninth straight and moved a game and a half ahead of the Saints in first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Thompson had 15 points in the first half and outrebounded Siena, 11-10, as Rider took a 59-34 lead, scoring 10 points more than top-ranked Memphis did in the first half of a 102-58 blowout of Siena on Jan. 3.

The Saints got within eight of the lead with 5:48 left, but ran out of gas and never got closer.

“It’s embarrassing,” Saints junior guard Kenny Hasbrouck said. “The whole nation saw it, so it’s even worse.”

What they saw was the hottest team in the MAAC build upon its longest winning streak since the 1983-84 season, and the best player in the conference showcase everything he can do.

Rider (17-6 overall) leads the conference at 10-2 following back-to-back road wins over the next two teams in the standings, Siena and Marist. The 13-8 Saints fell to 8-3, tied with the Red Foxes.

Thompson swatted the opening tap away from Edwin Ubiles, then scored easily inside on the first possession of the game. By the time Rider took a 17-5 lead at 13:35, he had eight points and four rebounds, and was just getting warmed up.

“I look at the five assists, because the reason we were so crisp offensively in the first half was the way he handled the double-teams,” Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey said. “On the glass, he was a man amongst boys.”

“He’s not the black hole,” Siena

head coach Fran McCaffery said. “The ball goes in there, and he knows what to do with it. He drives it, he kicks it, he goes off both shoulders.”

“He surpassed his hype. He’s amazing,” Hasbrouck said. “He’s so fast, he’s agile, he works hard. The thing about him his freshman and sophomore year, I think, was people were calling him soft and things like that, and he’s put on about 20 pounds since then, and he’s working his hardest and not giving up on plays. He’s going to be a problem in the NBA.”

In the meantime, Thompson is a problem for MAAC opponents, but he got plenty of help in the first half, as well. Five of his teammates combined to make eight of 12 three-pointers, and Rider was 24-for-39 (61.5 percent) from the field.

For the third straight game, Siena got off to a slow start and allowed the Broncs to go ahead by 25 as early as the 14:52 mark.

“The years I’ve been here, we’ve had a lot of slow starts, but that’s the maturity of this team,” Thompson said. “And no one got hesitant with the hype of it being on ESPN2. I like the maturity of my team.”

“If we come out sluggish like that, that’s what’s going to happen,” Hasbrouck said. “We’ve been thinking we’re a lot better than we are. The hype has been that we’re real good, and coach keeps telling us that we haven’t done anything yet. We have to come out and prove it, instead of coming out and playing like we’re just going to make shots, and they’re going to miss them.”

Hasbrouck scored 11 of his 23 points in the first half, including a three to cut it to 56-34, then Lamar Johnson answered with a three to make it 59-34 with three seconds left.

Starters Tay Fisher and Ubiles were on the bench to start the second half, but Ubiles returned 4:55 into the half with Siena trailing by 23 and helped spark the comeback.

The Saints used a 13-2 run to get within 70-56 with 10:05 left, then the crowd finally had a reason to get into the game when Ubiles capped a 5-0 run by stealing the ball and taking it all the way to cut it to 72-61 with 8:00 left.

The fans got even louder when Ubiles made a three in transition off a pass from Hasbrouck to make it 77-69 with 5:48 left. By then, Siena’s ball-hawking defense was working its magic, and Josh Duell was doing

his best to keep Thompson from getting comfortable inside.

“In the second half, we were much more concentrated in our effort,” McCaffery said. “OK, where’s Thompson, where’s the three-point shooters?”

Duell fouled out to a standing ovation with 3:52 left and Siena still within eight, but the Saints scored just four points the rest of the way.

Rider’s Mike Ringgold made a tough pump-fake layup high off the glass from well under the basket, and Justin Robinson got the roll on a jumper and tipped in a miss by Ryan Thompson to make it 86-73 with 1:01 left.

“We’re better with him out there,” McCaffery said of Duell. “I do think he was probably on fumes when he fouled out anyway.”

“I did alright, but it’s not for me to say,” Duell said. “Jason Thompson’s such a great player. Anything I was doing, he was countering. I threw everything I had at him, but he’s just one of those guys who realizes he’s good at feeling contact and knowing what to do.”

“It takes so much energy and focus to guard him,” forward Alex Franklin said. “You really can’t let down for a second. He definitely lived up to his hype.”

“I’m just happy to be able to fight them off,” Dempsey said. “One of the lessons you learn is that a good team is never out of a game, and Siena showed a lot of heart. The halftime deficit was just too much to overcome.”

RIDER (89)

J. Thompson 11-17 1-2 23, Ringgold 5-7 0-2 10, R. Thompson 7-12 5-7 20, Robinson 5-9 0-0 12, H. Mansell 3-7 4-6 13, Warner 0-0 0-0 0, Green 1-4 0-0 3, Griffin 0-1 0-0 0, Johnson 3-6 0-0 8, P. Mansell 0-2 0-0 0, Myers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 35-65 10-17 89.

SIENA (75)

Rossiter 0-1 0-0 0, Ubiles 8-11 0-1 18, Fisher 0-2 0-0 0, Moore 3-6 1-2 7, Hasbrouck 7-18 5-6 23, De La Rosa 0-1 1-2 1, Duell 2-3 1-2 7, Jackson 1-3 0-0 3, Magee 0-0 0-0 0, Franklin 6-11 4-9 16. Totals: 27-56 12-22 75.

Halftime: Rider 59, Siena 34. Three-point goals: Rider 9-20 (R. Thompson 1-1, Robinson 2-4, H. Mansell 3-7, Green 1-1, Griffin 0-1, Johnson 2-4, P. Mansell 0-2); Siena 9-22 (Ubiles 2-3, Fisher 0-2, Moore 0-3, Hasbrouck 4-10, Duell 2-2, Jackson 1-2). Rebounds: Rider 46 (J. Thompson 21); Siena 21 (Franklin 8). Assists: Rider 17 (J. Thompson, R. Thompson 5); Siena 16 (De La Rosa 4). Total fouls: Rider 22; Siena 18. Attendance: 6,432.

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