Rider 88, Fairfield 80
Thompson, in a perplexing slump for most of the season, has been his old self the last two games, never more than in the second half yesterday.
The preseason MAAC Player of the Year took it to Fairfield, driving to the hoop with reckless abandon and carrying Rider to an 88-80 win before 3,413 at the Arena at Harbor Yard.
Thompson, assertive in the open floor and unflappable at the free-throw line, scored a career-high 31 points, including 23 in the second half. He hit 7 of 15 from the floor and 15 of 16 from the line. As if that wasn’t enough, he also added 11 rebounds and four steals.
That, combined with 15 points from Justin Robinson and 14 from Novar Gadson, was enough to lift the Broncs (13-11 overall, 6-6 MAAC) to their third straight win.
This was a different Rider team overall – one much more like the one many expected to see this season than the one that struggled badly in December and January.
The Broncs came in having faced double-digit deficits in nine of their 11 MAAC games. Yesterday, they trailed by no more than three, led by as many as 16, and would likely have won going away had it not been for an astounding performance by Fairfield’s Mike Evanovich.
Evanovich, connecting from far beyond the arc, hit his first eight 3-point attempts before missing his final three. He set a school record for 3s made and finished with a career-high 24 points.
Yet Rider was in control almost throughout.
The Stags (15-7, 8-4) cut a 16-point second-half deficit to four in the second half, when it appeared a mental lapse by Gadson could prove costly.
Rider led 78-68 when Gadson passed at a wide-open layup and tried to throw an alley-oop to Mike Ringgold. Fairfield’s Colin Nickerson intercepted the pass and found Derek Needham for a layup, cutting the deficit to eight.
Two Rider turnovers and two Fairfield baskets later it was 78-74 with 2:18 left, what had been a quiet crowd coming to life.
But the Broncs gathered themselves, scored 10 points at the line in the final two minutes, and finished off their most impressive conference win of the season.