Rider blew an opportunity to take an insurmountable lead in the MAAC standings yesterday, losing 80-77 to Siena at the Broncs' Zoo. Instead of holding a two-game lead over Siena with four MAAC games remaining, the Broncs and Saints are now tied for first place, meaning the race for the regular season title is likely to come down to the wire.
Trentonian sports editor Aaron Bracy and assistant sports editor Matthew Osborne joined me at the game, and between the three of us, today's paper has some pretty expansive coverage.
I also wrote a Siena story for our sister paper up in Troy, New York, and covered the Rider women's game before the men's game. Pretty busy day.
It wasn't the outcome Rider wanted, but it might have been the most exciting game I've ever seen. Rider coughed up a six-point lead with less than two minutes to go and fell behind 80-77 on a deep 3 from the top of the key by Josh Duell.
Then it was time for one of the most exciting plays in college basketball: the baseball pass to set up a last-second shot.
When a lot of people think about those plays, they think of the infamous Grant Hill-to-Christian Laettner shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight.
But those of us from the Northeast know that the best such play of all time came two years earlier in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
The assist was from Scott Burrell, who as the only player in history drafted in the first round in both basketball (by the Charlotte Hornets) and baseball (as a pitcher by the Toronto Blue Jays) was the perfect candidate to throw the pass. (He was also an all-state quarterback at Hamden High School in Connecticut, adding to the list of reasons he was capable of throwing a ball 94 feet with such zip and precision.)
The basket was by Tate George, who hit a baseline jumper to propel UConn to a 71-70 win over Clemson in the East regional semifinal.
Most importantly, the play produced the greatest newspaper headline and the best radio call in the last 25 years in college basketball.
The front page of the Hartford Courant read "It's late, it's great, it's Tate."
The radio call on the UConn radio network came courtesy of our good friend Bob Heussler, who now serves as the play-by-play man for ..... the Fairfield Stags.
Which brings us back to Rider.
The Broncs did a good job running the play they wanted to run.
Ryan Thompson, playing the role of Burrell, inbounded the ball on the far baseline.
Jason Thompson, four inches taller than everyone else on the court, was an obvious choice to catch the pass. He had three options: shoot, pass to Harris Mansell or pass to Kamron Warner. The pass was perfect. Jason caught it, turned to face the hoop and had a good enough look that he opted to shoot. Unlike UConn against Clemson and Duke against Kentucky, Rider's play did not have a happy ending.
But it's time to look forward, and the Broncs' next game is Saturday at: you guessed it, Fairfield.
It's a game in which the Broncs will be favored on the road but not one they are a lock to win.
Tommy Dempsey told me last week Fairfield is a team that worries him because the Stags have gotten up for every game they've played against top-tier MAAC teams, winning at Loyola, at Siena and at Niagara.
This is a good opportunity to all those Stags fans up in Connecticut and up and down the east coast to chime in.
How do you think the game will play out?