And, so it begins. College basketball season is here for MAAC teams.
Opening Night played to rave reviews.
Seven non-league games involved MAAC teams, and conference representatives won five and gave high-level opponents close calls in the other two.
The highlight was clearly Rider's 88-74 victory at Misssissippi State, which entered the game ranked 18th nationally.
So, maybe Tommy Dempsey's vote for his own Broncs in the conference's post-season poll wasn't that far off base after all.
The other victories for conference teams came when Loyola knocked off Vermont, 78-66; Iona toppled Boston University (America East's preseason favorite), 82-73; Siena won at Tennessee State, 85-69; and, Fairfield defeated Central Connecticut, 67-58.
In the other games, Seton Hall nipped Saint Peter's, 53-51; and Auburn got past Niagara, 69-65.
Here's some game detail on the Rider victory:
Bronc forwards Mike Ringold and Novar Gadson scored 21 points each as Rider pulled off the first big upset of the season by beating No. 18 Mississippi State.
According to reports the Broncs drove to the basket relentlessly and hit 62.5 percent of their 3-point shots to knock off lifeless Mississippi State on the night the Bulldogs (0-1) received their 2008-09 Southeastern Conference championship rings.
Rider used a 15-5 run near the end of the first half to take a 47-45 halftime advantage and never relinquished it. Ryan Thompson scored 16 for Rider, Justin Robinson had 15 and Gadson added 11 rebounds.
Mississippi State started the season ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since starting 12th in 2004-05. The Bulldogs return all five starters and were picked to win the SEC Western Division this season.
But the Broncs, who return four starters from a squad that won 19 games last season, proved they're just as talented and didn't wilt after Mississippi State got off to a fast start.
Mississippi State scored six straight points to open the game and helped the Bulldogs to an early 11-2 lead. But Rider scored 18 points off 10 first-half turnovers to quickly get back in the game, and finished with a 20-3 advantage in that category.
The Broncs also outrebounded the bigger Bulldogs and used 11 offensive boards to score 13 second-chance points.
The Broncs were also dominant from long range thanks to lapses in the Bulldogs' perimeter defense, making 10 of 16 3-pointers, many of them wide open.
As for highlights of other games ...
- Seton Hall needed a 28-footer at the buzzer by Eugene Harvey to get past Saint Peter's, 53-51. The Peacocks had a 51-50 lead on Wesley Jenkins' jumper with 3.6 seconds remaining before Harvey's game-winner.
Saint Peter's held a 40-34 rebounding edge in the contest behind the front line of Jeron Belein (11 rebounds), Darius Conley (9) and Ryan Bacon (8).
- Iona got big performances out of two key returnees. Alejo Rodriguez, plagued by back problems over the past two seasons, had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Scott Michado had 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists against just two turnovers.
- Loyola's victory was led by senior guard Brett Harvey, who looks poised for a big senior season. Harvey had 23 points (5-of-7 from three-point range) and had four assists. A key newcomer, 6-foot-10 sophomore Shane Walker who transferred in from Maryland, had 9 points and 8 rebounds in his Loyola debut.
- Who's going to replace Kenny Hasbrouck at Siena? How about Clarence Jackson, the 6-3 junior who had a game-high 23 points against Tennessee State Friday? Jackson shot 7-of-9 from the field including 4-of-5 from 3-point land. Senior Alex Franklin had a big game, too, scoring 19 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Point guard Ronald Moore had eight assists.
- Fairfield's Anthony Johnson made a successful return to action after missing most of last season with blood clot issues. He had 18 points and 8 rebounds against Central Connecticut. Freshmen Derek Needham had 14 points and 6 assists, while Shimeek Johnson had 9 and 9. The Stags' injured players Greg Nero, Yorel Hawkins and Warren Edney all sat out.
- Auburn scored the last 11 points in the final 89 minutes of its game with Niagara to overcome a 65-58 deficit. Bilal Benn had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Purple Eagles. Demetrius Williamson, who figures to get a lot of time in Niagara's frontcourt this season, had 16 points and 7 rebounds. Junior guard Anthony Nelson had 17 points, but Tyrone Lewis only scored two points in nine minutes. No details yet as to why Lewis played limited minutes.