Rider freshman Zedric Sadler is one of those guards who’s easy to forget about. He doesn’t score a lot. He doesn’t even shoot a lot. But when he does let fly he’s accurate and can burn opponents by surprise.
Sadler caught Canisius with its defense in a dismissive mode Saturday afternoon. Left open on the wing, he buried a decisive three-pointer with 15 seconds left and added two free throws in the final seconds, capping a torrid comeback that lifted Rider over Canisius, 65-61, and into a second-place finish in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
The Griffs (18-12, 11-7) appeared to have things their way with a little over four minutes remaining in front of 1,561 at the Koessler Athletic Center. Billy Baron was fouled shooting a three and made the trio. Issac Sosa was left unattended on the baseline and swished a three. The lead was 61-56 with 4:33 remaining but who could have figured Canisius would never score again?
“I guess the hole just shrunk for us mentally,” Harold Washington said. “We couldn’t put it down.”
Rider (18-13, 12-6) stood firm, showing the confidence that comes with a four-game winning streak. The Broncos got within one with 3:33 to play and from there the game went scoreless until Sadler produced his second field goal of the afternoon off a feed from Jonathon Thompson.
“He’s very reliable,” Rider coach Kevin Baggett said of Sadler, a 40 percent shooter from behind the arc. “He’s very reliable on both ends. But he understands that as a freshman his role is to defer to some of the upperclassmen. But those guys know that Zedric is a gamer and he’ll hit big-time shots so they don’t hesitate to throw him the ball when the game’s on the line.”
Sadler’s open look was owed in part to Rider’s decimation of the Griffs on the interior. The Broncos scored their first eight second-half field goals in the paint. They outscored the Griffs, 34-20, there overall and were plus-eight on the boards. So Canisius had to respect the inside threat and concede Sadler some space.
“There’s no question about it,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said. “He doesn’t play that much off the bench and he made a big, big shot.
“They did a good job. We talked about trying to front the post and getting the weak side but they did a good job. They were very, very physical.”
Conversely, Canisius couldn’t get shots to fall after opening its last five-point lead. Washington, Billy Baron and Isaac Sosa missed looks from three (and all finished with 14 points). Baron drove the basket following Sadler’s go-ahead hoop but was stymied underneath, forcing the Griffs to foul.
“I for sure thought it was a foul,” Billy Baron said. “I got to look at it but I for sure thought he jumped with me. I for sure thought it was a foul 100 percent. I got to look back. Maybe I’m over-exaggerating a little bit. But I definitely was expecting a call there. … Very shocked I didn’t get that call.”
A new season begins with this week’s MAAC Tournament in Springfield, Mass., and every coach in the league seems to agree it’s wide open. One might even paint Rider as the favorite given it has won five straight and seven of its last eight and is receiving strong play inside from the likes of Junior Fortunat (team-high 12 points).
“I don’t know about that,” Rider coach Kevin Baggett said. “We never look ahead. We never take any opponent for granted because this league is tough from top to bottom.”
Canisius will finish anywhere from third to fifth depending on Sunday’s results. It’ll take three wins to claim the tournament crown and that seems like a major task for the Griffs, who haven’t won consecutive games in more than a month. What they do have is experience and a senior-heavy cast.
“If we come out to play any night I think we can compete at any level,” Washington said. “I have 100 percent confidence in our ability to do something special in this tournament.”