Men's College Basketball
Rider University 65, Fairfield University 62
LAWRENCEVILLE--It is not how you start the season but how you finish that counts. After suffering one of the worst starts in program history, the Broncs beat two of the top four teams in the conference on the final weekend of the regular season, Loyola and now Fairfield.
"Just a good weekend overall," said Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey. "I think that it was important that we stood tall against two MAAC contenders and send a message that we still feel like we are a contender."
Senior Novar Gadson (Philadelphia, Pa./John Bartram) scored Rider's final eight points and finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, leading Rider to a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference win over Fairfield Sunday afternoon.
"We needed to make a statement that we're still a contender, capable of winning this league," said Gadson, who has compiled 98 points in his last five games.
With the score tied 55-55 with 6:12 remaining, Rider (13-18, 10-8 MAAC) out-scored Fairfield (17-13, 12-6 MAAC) 6-3, four points by Gadson, to take a 61-58 lead with 2:18 remaining.
Stag senior forward Rakim Sanders cut the lead to 63-62 with 1:15 left, but missed two three-point attempts in the final 10 seconds. Sanders finished with 17 points.
In his final home game, Gadson made a lay-up with 28.2 remaining for the final score.
Rider led 53-47 before the Stags went on an 8-2 run, four points by Maurice Barrow, to tie the score at 55-55 with 6:12 left. Barrow finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds.
Trailing 46-33, Fairfield went on a 12-2 run, nine points by Jamel Fields, to cut the lead to 48-45 with 10:21 remaining. Fields finished with nine points of the bench.
Rider out-scored Fairfield 13-6 to start the second half, taking a 46-33 lead with 14:17 left to play.
"This was a tough loss," said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson, "but the story is the job Tommy Dempsey has done with this team. The second half of the season they played good basketball."
The score was tied at 27-27 before Rider scored the final six points of the half to take a 33-27 lead at intermission.
Fairfield led 15-14 before Rider went on an 11-3 run, four points each by Gadson and junior Jonathon Thompson (Orlando, Fla./Jones), to take a 25-18 lead with 5:02 left in the first half.
"We wanted to win this game for the seniors," said Thompson, who finished with 13 points. "This was about gaining confidence for the tournament."
Trailing 12-5, Fairfield went on a 10-2 run, four points by Sean Crawford, to take a 15-14 lead. Crawford finished with 10 points
Sanders played just 10 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.
Rider jumped out to a 10-3 lead, five points by Gadson.
Senior Kevin Noon (Cherry Hill, NJ/Cherry Hill West) made his first collegiate start in his final home game on Senior Day and senior Jeff Jones (Chester, PA/Monsignor Bonner) finished with 14 points in his final game in Alumni Gym.
Rider will now play Saturday, March 3 at 2:30 in the MAAC quarterfinals in Springfield, Mass.
The fifth seed, Rider will again play Fairfield, as the Stags fell to the fourth seed. "Regardless of our opponent, we needed to play well this weekend to take some energy into the tournament," Dempsey said. "We're going into the tournament on a high note. We haven't had many high notes this year."
"We knew we had the talent to do this all year," Thompson said, "we just had to overcome some problems to become a better team."
"Rider is playing its best basketball right now," Coach Johnson said.
After a slow start, the Broncs are now ready for MAACachusetts.