ALBANY, N.Y. — Basketball: Truly a game of inches.
Okay, now that we got the cliché out of the way, let’s talk about the craziness that went down as the clock struck midnight and MAAC Thursday morphed into MAAC Friday.
With just over eight minutes remaining, Rider led Manhattan by 10. But the Jaspers, harder to kill than a T-1000, rattled off a 16-5 run to grab their first lead since the game’s opening minute with just 3:50 to play.
The teams traded blows until Kahlil Thomas’ layup knotted things up at 66 entering the final minute. Manhattan’s Zane Waterman attempted a go-ahead 3-pointer. The junior’s opportunity clapped off the front of the rim, but fell out of bounds off the Broncs, setting the stage for chaos to break loose.
Freshman Aaron Walker Jr. picked up the final points of his game-high 18-point night on a layup with 18 seconds remaining. With a timeout in hand, Rider coach Kevin Baggett allowed his offense to flow in the waning seconds. The ball found its way to senior Jimmie Taylor on the right arc, where he buried a 3-pointer to put the Broncs ahead 69-68 with just four seconds remaining.
On ensuing possession, Manhattan’s Zavier Turner rushed down the floor and managed to get a layup to fall, but the shot came just after the final buzzer and was quickly waved off.
As the officials gathered around the monitor to review the timing of Turner’s last-second prayer, they also turned their attention to the Broncs’ final possession. More specifically, the position of Taylor’s feet.
As the scoreboard hanging high above the court at the Times Union Center flashed through a slow motion of Taylor’s game-winner, cheers went up from the Jaspers’ fans. Hope remained. Taylor’s foot was on the line. Or so it seemed.
With the game’s lone camera at center court trained on Taylor’s back, the angle provided an inconclusive look at whether or not the senior’s foot was fully behind the line.
“Emotions were definitely up and down,” Taylor said of the lingering minutes when the officials reviewed the play at the monitor before admitting he himself was unsure of his foot’s placement. “I definitely knew that [Turner] didn’t get the shot off; I saw that right away. As far as my shot being a two or a three, that’s when emotions really kicked in because we didn’t know if we were going to go into overtime or not. Some guys were celebrating, but we were trying to stay together.”
With insufficient evidence to overturn the call on the court, Taylor’s three stood as called and Rider advanced to take on Iona Saturday night.
“It was just inconclusive,” Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said of the explanation he received from the officials following their review. “I guess they couldn’t – there wasn’t enough to say it wasn’t a three. That happens.”
The Broncs were able to eke out the victory by doing two things they have struggled with this season: convert from the charity stripe and contain (somewhat) Zane Waterman.
Rider as a team made just 67% of their free throws in the 2016-17 season, but on Thursday night had one of their most accurate games of the year. With a razor thin final margin and every point at a premium, the Broncs knocked down 24 of 30 free throws against the Jaspers.
Waterman, who torched the Broncs for 30 points in each of the teams’ meetings this season, still had a productive night but was held to half his output from the regular season with 15 points Thursday night.
Zavier Turner and Tyler Wilson joined Walker and Waterman in double figures with 11 and 10 respectively.
Taylor’s 16 points led the Broncs, who also benefited from a career-high 15 from freshman Tyere Marshall. Kahlil Thomas and Norville Carey added 12 apiece.
“He’s an unbelievable human being, and I can’t thank him enough for what he does,” Baggett said of Taylor. “For him to make that winning three will be something that he’ll forever remember, we’ll forever remember, and I’ll forever be appreciative of.”
The Broncs will take on Iona Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. The teams split the season series with blowout wins on each others’ home court. The Gaels took the first meeting 95-76 in Lawrenceville February 3, but Rider handed Iona a 103-85 defeat in New Rochelle two weeks later.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.