As he made his way out the Gallagher Center last Friday night, Rider coach Tommy Dempsey bumped into ESPN's Dereck Whittenburg, who was the color analyst for the Broncs' victory over Niagara that evening.
Back at the 1983 Final Four against Houston, Whittenburg's last-second heave fell into the hands of Lorenzo Charles for a dunk, giving North Carolina State the national championship and transforming Whittenburg into an NCAA Tournament legend. Dempsey decided to toss a jab at Whittenburg.
"You're famous for shooting an air ball," Dempsey told him.
Fast forward to Sunday at the Koessler Athletic Center, where Rider's Novar Gadson was at the bottom of a pile of teammates after his stick-back of Justin Robinson's air ball gave the Broncs a stunning 77-76 victory over Canisius College.
"It's kind of ironic, huh?" Dempsey said.
For Canisius, there would be no carry-over from its performance at home against defending-champion Siena on Friday night. The Griffs fell to 7-8 overall and 1-4 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said sophomore point guard Gaby Belardo, who missed the front end of a one-and-one with 11.3 seconds left. "I think we played really good offensively but defensively we didn't play well and Coach [Tom Parrotta] told us at the beginning that they're a good three-point shooting team."
It came down to rebounds. Canisius was outrebounded 37-32, including 15 offensive boards.
"We have to get our hands on one basketball and when you have a team like that that gets six, seven, eight or nine chances," said Parrotta, "they're going to break you at one time or another and that's exactly what happened."
Said senior forward Greg Logins, who had 18 points and seven rebounds: "Coach said we have to go after everything, and they got to the ball first." A 1-4 start in league play is not what Canisius expected, not with five seniors on the roster. There are still 13 conference games remaining, but the continued failures aren't any less frustrating. The Griffs held a 12-point lead in the first half and led by 11 early in the second but they needed to get their hands on one rebound.
As Rider (12-5, 4-1) celebrated, Canisius and the 919 in attendance were dismayed at how the final 40.8 seconds unfolded after senior guard Julius Coles [20 points] banged home a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down, then pump faked his way to two more points and a 76-75 Griffs lead.
With 40.8 seconds left, Robinson knifed to the basket but Tomas Vazquez-Simmons rejected it out of bounds. Then, Robinson missed a short jump shot and in a scramble for the rebound the ball was knocked out of bounds. Rider ball. While most in the KAC argued the call, replays showed Vazquez-Simmons swiped hard at the ball and knocked it out of bounds.
After Gadson missed a three-pointer, Belardo grabbed the rebound and started racing down court before he was fouled by Danny Stewart. Belardo had a clear path to the basket, and Parrotta believed he was fouled intentionally, which would have given Belardo two shots and the ball.
"I don't think you can grab a guy and prevent him from going down that open lane," Parrotta said.
Asked if he thought Belardo should have eased up and dribbled off some more time, Parrotta said, "Clearly, it was a layup. I don't think you can get a better shot than that."
Belardo actually answered the question before Parrotta did, saying, "I was open."
Still, Belardo went to the line and missed the front end of the one-and-one.
"We shoot 100 free throws a day," Belardo said. "I should have knocked down those free throws."
Rider's Mike Ringgold brought the ball down court -- tripping twice and nearly losing the ball -- but forced a shot high off the glass. Robinson (19 points) grabbed the rebound and fired up a shot that fell way short but rested in the hands of Gadson, who alertly laid it back in as the buzzer sounded.|
The KAC went numb as the officials huddled by the monitor to confirm the basket counted. Referee Gary Prager turned to no one in particular and flicked his wrist.
Yes, basket good, and a disappointing loss for Canisius.