Siena got its lead to 13 in the second half on Saturday, but win No. 13 did not follow.
Rider’s Ryan Thompson, a 6-foot-6 junior, drove the right side of the lane on Siena’s 6-7 Edwin Ubiles and banked in a layup with 3.5 seconds left to give the Broncs a 90-88 victory at Alumni Gym, the Saints’ first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference loss of the season.
Siena (12-1, 18-6) led by 13 three times midway through the second half, but on an afternoon when the Saints reverted to the 2007-08 version of their defense for one long stretch, Rider stormed back to take an 86-81 lead with 1:35 left.
Then it was Siena’s turn to come back, which the Saints did, but the Broncs (8-4, 13-9) got the ball back with the game tied at 88-88 with 37 seconds left and cleared it out for their best player to make something happen.
Stooped over on the left wing while winding time down with a crossover dribble, Thompson sized up Ubiles, drove hard diagonally to the right post and found enough daylight — with no other defender helping and Ubiles refusing to foul — to get off a banker that went in clean off the glass.
Siena head coach Fran McCaffery screamed frantically for a timeout, but the tiny gym was too loud, and the best point guard Ronald Moore could do was dribble just past halfcourt and shove a wild, twisting shot that was contested by two Broncs and fell well short.
“I kind of knew, when I saw how much time was left, and comparing it to the shot clock, that I was going to try to take it and get that last shot off, and it happened to go,” Thompson said. “I got around Ubiles, and then I saw [Ryan] Rossiter standing there, but usually when Harris [Mansell] is on the other side, they don’t want to help out, because I could throw it out to him.”
“It was simple. We know he likes to drive right,” Ubiles said. “He got to his right, and I didn’t want to foul him, so I had to try to contest him as much as possible, keep him in front of me and maybe force him to shoot a jump shot, and he happened to get to the rim and made a good play.
“The next time I’m in that situation, maybe I‘ll back up more, and he won’t get that angle. But he made a great play.”
Just like that, the Saints are no longer undefeated.
They’ve achieved what, for the school, has been an unprecedented level of regular-season national attention and had pushed their Ratings Percentage Index as high as No. 20 in the country.
Siena never doubted that the conference would offer some rough sledding, though, and Rider happened to be the first big bump.
“We play for ourselves. We want to win a championship,” junior forward Alex Franklin said glumly. “I don’t think that [national hype] affected us. We just didn’t execute today like we should’ve.”
“I don’t think, if you put a gun to my head at the start of the season, that I expected to go undefeated, and pretty much said as much at media day,” McCaffery said.
“We still almost won, so I think that shows that we still have a lot of fight, and I’m proud of that. But at the same time, you’ve got to know how to close the game out.”
Siena didn’t do that, despite leading by 71-58 with 8:58 to play.
Rider was already in the midst of a torrid stretch of offense that wouldn’t end until they had gone 16 straight possessions without a defensive stop by Siena.
Justin Robinson, averaging 8.7 points per game, scored 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting from the field, including five of six three-pointers.
He made back-to-back threes to cut it to 71-64 with 8:05 left, prompting the red-faced McCaffery to call a timeout and rip into his players for 30 seconds.
Siena was able to get into the double bonus with 5:04 left, but the tide had turned.
Robinson made another three to put the Broncs ahead, 79-75.
“They made shots when they had to,” McCaffery said. “We did not defend today. After the first half, you say, OK, now we’ve got to tighten up the ‘D,’ and they come out in the second half and shoot 57 [percent].
“I thought we were going to be able to close it out and keep playing ‘D,’ but we didn’t,” senior co-captain Kenny Hasbrouck said. “I don’t think our heart was there today. That starts from the top. I wasn’t bringing it on ‘D’ like I should’ve. Then you can go down the line. None of us was rotating the way we were supposed to, none of us had the urgency to stop somebody.
“We thought we’d be able to spread the court, try to take advantage of some matchups and share the ball,” Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey said. “That was the approach going into the game, and that’s what we stayed with throughout the game. We just really got into a rhythm there.”
Hasbrouck, who made five of eight threes and finished with 27 points, scored six straight for Siena, but Rider answered every time.
Alex Franklin finished a three-point play to tie it at 86-86 with 1:06 left, then freshman Novar Gadson, who scored 17 points, backed Rossiter down for a little turnaround to make it 88-86 with 50 seconds left.
Hasbrouck missed two free throws, Rossiter rebounded the second one, and after Hasbrouck got the ball back, he missed a shot, but Rossiter was on the spot again to tip it in and tie it at 88-88.
That set up Thompson’s winning play.
“The problem on the last play is if you start helping, then someone’s going to get a clean look,” McCaffery said. “They had Robinson in the corner, and he was on fire. We didn’t do a good job on him today.”
“I don’t think it was a case where it was an upset, but I also don’t think it was a case where they didn’t play well, either,” Dempsey said. “That’s what I was probably the most encouraged about. They played extremely well, and Kenny was unbelievable, Franklin played well, Moore played well, and in spite of that, we were able to win the game.”
Rossiter 4-9 4-4 12, Ubiles 3-7 3-6 10, Franklin 8-10 4-6 20, Moore 3-9 1-3 10, Hasbrouck 8-17 6-8 27, Downey 0-2 0-0 0, C. Jackson 3-5 0-1 7, Wignot 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 30-61 18-28 88.
Ringgold 6-12 0-0 12, J. Jackson 0-0 4-6 4,
Thompson 5-10 2-2 13, Robinson 9-12 2-2 25, H. Mansell 5-9 0-0 13, Griffin 0-1 3-4 3, Penn 1-1 0-0 3, Gadson 7-15 2-4 17. Totals: 33-60 13-18 90.
Halftime: Rider 44, Siena 40. Three-point goals: Siena 10-20 (Ubiles 1-2, Moore 3-5, Hasbrouck 5-8, Downey 0-2, C. Jackson 1-2, Wignot 0-1); Rider 11-19 (Thompson 1-3, Robinson 5-6, H. Mansell 3-4, Griffin 0-1, Penn 1-1, Gadson 1-4). Rebounds: Siena 34 (Franklin 12); Rider 33 (Mansell 8). Assists: Siena 15 (Moore 7); Rider 21 (Ringgold 4, Jackson 4, Gadson 4). Total fouls: Siena 14; Rider 21.Technical foul: Rider coach Dempsey. Attendance: 1,650.