Exacting revenge for last season's upset loss at home in the final, the fourth-seeded Broncs advanced to this year's Northeast Conference championship game with a 74-70 semifinal victory before 3,000 raucous fans at Knott Arena. Rider (19-10) dominated the Mount early with an overpowering perimeter defense, gained a 15-point advantage, and then protected it the rest of the game.
With the victory, the Broncs will play at third-seeded Monmouth on Friday in their bid for a third NEC title in four years.
Meanwhile, a year after earning its first Division I NCAA appearance, Mount St. Mary's (21-7) is left hoping for a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. will probably have to be edged out of consideration for the NCAA tourney field because of a rash of upsets in other conferences.
ZTC But the National Invitation Tournament remains a viable possibility. "We would like to think that we're in the [NIT] plans," said Mount athletic director Harold "Chappy" Menninger. "We're optimistic that we're penciled in there."
Said coach Jim Phelan, whose team's 15-game winning streak was ended: "We know we're not going to get an [NCAA] at-large bid. I don't know about the chances for the NIT. We never even discussed that. But I would believe that the players might want to play some more."
Especially senior and NEC Player of the Year Chris McGuthrie, who was shut down covered like a snowfall by Rider's Deon Hames and finished 4-for-19 from the field. He never was a real factor.
And also third guard Silas Cheung -- he was 0-for-7 against Rider's stonewall defense and missed two key free throws down the stretch.
"I don't know what to say," Cheung said. "I don't know what happened."
The Mount fell behind 24-9 while Hames and his teammates clamped down on Mount St. Mary's usually lethal three-point game.
Rider's All-NEC forward, Charles Smith, warmed up early and carried the offense with nine of the team's first 10 points.
The Mount -- normally a torrid starter -- had one basket in the first 13-plus minutes of the game. and Rider appeared as if it might succeed in reaching coach Kevin Bannon's goal of limiting the Mount to 15 three-point tries.
Then, Riley Inge began to dominate the game. He scored seven straight points, fed Gerben Van Dorpe for two more baskets and the Mount crept back into contention.
By the half, Mount St. Mary's was back within 35-30 because Inge was coolly spectacular.
The uphill battle continued throughout the rest of the night, but McGuthrie and Cheung remained cold while Inge (26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, five steals) tried to find some offensive help.
Senior Jeff Balistrere scored knocked home seven points to shave Rider's edge to 60-58 before fouling out, and a dunk by Van Dorpe got the Mount to within 63-62 at the 4: 00 mark.
Then Kevin McPeek hit two free throws and a key jumper from the top of the lane to regain the Broncs' momentum.
A three-pointer by Tony Hayden knocked the margin down to 72-70 with 53 seconds remaining, and after a Smith miss, the Mount had one more try.
Van Dorpe missed inside, Cheung couldn't convert a rebound and then Smith rejected Cheung's final attempt to seal the victory.
"We only played in spurts tonight," said Balistrere. "Usually we're solid throughout the game. But Rider hit every shot they had to, even early.
"Sometimes, you just expend so much energy getting back from an early deficit, that you can't quite get over the top."
Said Phelan, "We played at home and shot very poorly. Normally that doesn't happen, but id did.:
Now Mount St. Mary's has to wait for Sunday night to learn if it will play again.
Pub Date: 3/05/96