Saints charge into MAAC title game

Rider’s Ryan Thompson received a standing ovation from the Siena crowd as he left the floor for the

Rider’s Ryan Thompson received a standing ovation from the Siena crowd as he left the floor for the last time on Sunday.

The fans might not have been so generous had Thompson stayed as hot as he was in the first half.

Siena held the Broncs’ star to six mostly meaningless points in the second half and got its own game going to beat Rider, 72-62, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament semifinals at the Times Union Center.

The Saints will shoot for their third straight championship and third straight trip to the NCAA tournament when they face Fairfield, a 69-63 winner over Niagara, in the MAAC final at 7 tonight.

In particular, MAAC Player of the Year Alex Franklin, senior swingman Edwin Ubiles and junior guard Clarence Jackson — at the behest of head coach Fran McCaffery during his halftime speech — played better in the second half for Siena (26-6).

The Broncs (17-16) led at halftime, 30-28, behind 15 points from Thompson, then the Saints used a 16-0 run to take command, 60-48, with 7:24 left.

Senior point guard Ronald Moore, who finished with 15 points and 10 assists, knocked down a three-pointer from the left corner and made a free throw to complete the run.

Jackson scored two points in the first half, then scored 15 in the second, including two three-pointers during the decisive stretch.

“We came in, and everybody had their heads down,” Jackson said. “He [McCaffery] came in, he didn’t yell, he just said, ‘Look, we’ve got to win this game, and stop feeling sorry for ourselves.’ He pointed out the guys, personally, that just weren’t bringing it. We took that, and didn’t sulk about it.

“We were knocking down shots, and everybody had a smile on their face, including myself. This is what we live for, what our school lives for and what this community lives for, so we just have to make it fun.”

Ryan Rossiter had 10 points and 18 rebounds, one shy of a career high, for his 20th double-double of the season and 15th in the last 17 games.

He and Franklin, who made 12 of 13 free throws and scored 18 points, ultimately outdueled Rider’s Mike Ringgold (20 points, 14 rebounds) and Novar Gadson (11 rebounds) inside.

Rossiter had 10 rebounds at halftime, but McCaffery said he didn’t believe Franklin was carrying his weight, so he was encouraged to get after the glass more productively in the second half.

“Coach challenged us to go out there and clean up on the defensive end,” said Franklin, who had six rebounds in the second half and finished with eight. “It’s all heart when it comes to rebounding, and me and Ryan always try to show that we have more heart out there.”

Thompson, the preseason MAAC Player of the Year, scored Rider’s first 12 points, but the Saints did just enough to hang around and never trailed by more than four points in a first half that featured four ties and five lead changes.

Siena wasn’t satisfied with how it played, though, and the Saints would have been in a deeper hole if Moore, who came into the game with a .306 field-goal percentage, had not picked a good time to find his outside shot. He made four of seven shots, including his only three-point attempt of the half, and scored nine points.

“The reality is, it’s great when Ronald’s hitting shots, but he doesn’t have to hit shots,” McCaffery said. “He’s still going to take it through your defense and make plays for other people. The way Ronald Moore attacked the zone in the second half was a thing of beauty.”

Rider took a six-point lead early in the second half, then Ubiles, who scored seven points after intermission, started the 16-0 run with a long jumper against Rider’s zone defense.

Jackson hit a three on an assist from Moore to make it 56-48, then Gadson was called for his fourth foul for going over the back of Rossiter on the offensive glass.

That set up a possession in which Ubiles drove into the lane, then whipped a pass to his left into the corner to Moore, who nailed a three to give the Saints a 59-48 lead.

“You could argue that his three out of the corner was the biggest shot of the game,” McCaffery said. “Their focus was to play up on Edwin, play up on Clarence and body up our big guys, so Ronald had more room. If Ronald has space, he’s going to make something pos­itive happen.”

Thompson hit a long jumper to bring Rider within 64-54, but Jackson responded with two free throws, then picked off a pass intended for Gadson and streaked in for a ferocious one-handed dunk that sent most of the crowd of 8,250 into a frenzy.

Jackson celebrated so demonstratively on his way back upcourt that McCaffery barked at him not to get a technical foul.

“I kind of felt like that sealed the deal,” Jackson said. “I was just so amped up in the game and kind of was in my own world a little bit.

“Coach brought me in at halftime and said, ‘You know what, stop feeling sorry for yourself.’ He pointed to me, Eddie and Alex and told us to respond. That’s what good teams do, they pick each other up, esp­ecially through adversity like that. We came through and just kept fighting.”

Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey brought Thompson out of the game with 33.4 seconds left and Siena leading, 72-60.

The crowd stood and applauded the senior swingman.

“I appreciate it,” Thompson said. “I appreciate everybody from the MAAC, I appreciate everything I did and everything I was awarded. I just had a great overall career and I enjoyed myself, and I thank everybody.”

Siena will now point its attention to Fairfield, whom the Saints beat in the semifinals last year and twice this season, 81-73 and 69-67.

The Stags feature the MAAC Rookie of the Year, point guard Derek Needham.

“Fairfield is big,” McCaffery said. “They have a phenomenal point guard, one of the best freshman point guards I’ve seen in my 27 years. Ed [Fairfield coach Ed Cooley] is going to challenge our defense with creative sets, counters, they can run and they can play in the halfcourt.”

“It’ll be very exciting,” Moore said. “We came into this tourn­ament hungry. We know what it takes to win a championship. We’ve got to leave it all out there on the floor. We know the atmosphere is going to be phenomenal, and whoever we play is going to bring it.”

“That’s our goal the whole season, to win the MAAC championship, and we’re one step closer now and it’s a reality that we’re there,” Rossiter said. “We just have to get rest tonight, get some food into us, prepare tomorrow and transfer the information to the court.”

RIDER (62)

Ringgold 8-13 4-6 20, Penn 3-10 0-0 7, R. Thompson 8-17 3-4 21, Robinson 4-9 0-0 9, Gadson 1-7 0-0 2, Youngblood 0-2 0-0 0, J. Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Mansell 1-5 0-0 3, Nd-Ezuma 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 25-64 7-10 62.

SIENA (72)

Rossiter 4-8 2-3 10, Franklin 3-9 12-13 18, Jackson 6-9 2-2 17, Ubiles 4-14 1-2 9, Moore 5-10 3-5 15, Anosike 0-2 0-0 0, Downey 1-2 0-0 3, Wignot 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 23-55 20-25 72.

Halftime: Rider 30, Siena 28. Three-point goals: Rider 5-21 (Penn 1-4, R. Thompson 2-7, Robinson 1-2, Gadson 0-3, Mansell 1-5); Siena 6-16 (Jackson 3-6, Ubiles 0-5, Moore 2-2, Downey 1-2, Wignot 0-1). Rebounds: Rider 38 (Ringgold 14, Gadson 11); Siena 39 (Rossiter 18). Assists: Rider 9 (Ringgold 4); Siena 15 (Moore 10). Total fouls: Rider 18; Siena 9. Attendance: 8,250.

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