Fisher hits 6 3s to lead Siena over Rider 74-53 in MAAC title game
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP)—Tay Fisher figured it would be his night. After all, it was his 22nd birthday.
Fisher matched his career high with six 3-pointers while scoring 21 points, and top-seeded Siena beat Rider 74-53 on Monday night to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship and earn the school’s fourth NCAA tournament berth.
“I played with a lot of confidence,” said Fisher, who hit four 3-pointers and three free throws to key a game-changing 24-11 first-half spurt. “I figured if my team is going to play with confidence, I’ve got to play with confidence as well. I believed in this team. I told them I was going to give it my all. Coach kept coming to me when I was hot.”
The second-seeded Broncs, seeking their first tournament appearance since 1994, never recovered from Fisher’s barrage against a pressing Siena defense that forced 16 turnovers that led to 21 points for the Saints.
“I think last night’s win took a lot out of us emotionally and physically,” Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. “We knew we were going to see a lot of pressure. They were disruptive with it, but it was their ability on offense that made the difference in the second half.”
The win was the sixth in a row for Siena (22-10), which last went to the NCAA tournament in 2002, and spoiled the season for MAAC player of the year Jason Thompson, who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds in a losing cause.
“We came out here with a lot of confidence,” said Thompson, who had two defenders on him just about every time he touched the ball. “They didn’t let us get in the rhythm we like. I blame it on myself. It’s hard. I had always pictured being in the NCAA tournament.”
Instead, Rider (23-10) will have to wait and see if it earns an NIT bid.
“Now that Siena is going to the NCAA tournament, there’s no reason for Rider not to get an NIT bid,” Dempsey said. “To win 23 games, we beat a Big Ten team (Penn State), a Big East team (Rutgers). We have a first-round NBA draft pick (Thompson) that should be showcased.”
With the hometown Siena fans yelling “N-I-T!” at the Rider players, the Saints must have felt it was their night from the outset. Josh Duell swished a 3-pointer from the left wing 77 seconds after the opening tip, his first make from beyond the arc after eight straight misses over four games.
After Thompson followed his own miss to give Rider a 15-13 lead midway through the first half, Fisher went to work, hitting his first 3 from the left corner at 10:15 to give the Saints a one-point lead.
After Joel Green’s baseline jumper put Rider back in front, Edwin Ubiles hit a runner in the lane and a 3 to put Siena ahead to stay. Fisher then hit three more 3s in a span of less than three minutes, was fouled while attempting another 3-pointer and sank all three free throws, and Siena was up by 37-26 with 3:31 left.
The Saints, who entered shooting only 25 percent on 3s in the previous five games, were 6-for-13 in the period and took a 41-30 lead into the break despite being outrebounded 24-14 and 9-0 on the offensive glass.
If not for Thompson, who scored 32 points—including the 2,000th of his career—and grabbed 18 rebounds in Rider’s 76-71 semifinal victory over Marist, the halftime deficit would have been much more daunting. He made a pair of 3s from the top of the key in scoring 14 points, but never became a factor in the second half.
“We referred to it as an ‘up’ game. Everybody is up—up full court, up in the passing lanes, up pressuring the shooter,” Siena coach Fran McCaffery said. “We were up in front of Thompson. If we’re going to get beat, they’re going to have to go through us. We’re not going to play underneath and let them run their stuff.”
Siena overcame a 17-point first-half deficit and beat Loyola 65-63 in the semifinals on Duell’s go-ahead basket with 19.4 seconds remaining. There was little drama in this one.
Rider moved within nine points three times in the second half. But after Kamron Warner hit a 3 from the left corner to pull the Broncs within 54-45, Ubiles hit a baseline jumper, Fisher swished a 3 from the top of the key, and Kenny Hasbrouck, who finished with 17 points, made a midrange jumper to give Siena a 61-45 lead with 8:17 left.
“We kept telling ourselves we were down and just stepped it up another notch every time they tried to make a run,” said Ubiles, who had 15 points. “We got them to play fast. We pressured them full court and got after them.”