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  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - Rivier College Raider guard Brian Troy, center, tries to drive past Daniel Webster College defenders, John Hickson, left, and Justin Lewandowski, right in Thursday night's clash at the Muldoon Fitness Center Gymnasium on the campus of Rivier College in Nashua.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - Fans cheer at the DWC/Rivier Men's hoop game on Thursday evening at the Rivier gym.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - Rivier College's forward Tom Poitras looks for an open man as Daniel Webster's Justin Lewandowski defends on the play in Thursday night's game at the Muldoon Fitness Center Gym on the campus of Rivier College.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich - Rivier College's Jake Nelson, left, from Nashua drives the baseline as Daniel Webster College's Daris Cosby defends on the play in Thursday night's game at the Muldoon Fitness Center Gym on the campus of Rivier College.
Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thursday’s excitement sparked possible rebirth of DWC-Rivier rivalry

NASHUA – The rivalry is reborn.

Anyone who was at the Muldoon Fitness Center on Thursday night couldn’t help but notice the extra intensity. Not only was it on the court, but also in the stands, for the first men’s basketball regular-season meeting in nearly four years between intra-city rivals Rivier and Daniel Webster College.

The Eagles brought plenty of fans, and their reward was a dramatic 67-65 win that could have turned into a stunning loss had Rivier forward Garon Whitney’s buzzer beating 3-point attempt not hit the front of the rim.

It was the first win of the year for the 1-4 Eagles, but there was clearly more to it than that. Ever since they left the Great Northeast Athletic Conference to become a charter member of the New England Collegiate Conference, the Raiders had shut the door on any possible regular season meetings, claiming a full non-conference men’s hoop slate.

Clearly, the Eagles felt snubbed. Despite the change in conferences, men’s hoop was the only sport the two schools have not competed in over the last three years since the move.

“This rivalry is 100 percent taken serious, before I even got here,” said aptly-named DWC junior guard Keith Speed, who led his team with 15 points and an assist on teammate Daris Crosby’s game-winning bucket with 22 seconds left. “It was still around. The two schools, we talk to each other, we see each other, same neighborhood, same barber shops, there was a lot of trash talking.

“We have a personal vendetta with Riv. All the other sports get to play Riv but us. We were actually happy our crowd came out and supported us.”

There you go. You can’t fool the students into seeing the logic of two schools just a few miles apart not playing each other in perhaps the most popular sport they both play.

Even the Raiders players felt the extra intensity the Eagles brought.

“It was definitely a little bit of vengeance,” said Raider sparkplug guard Jake Nelson of Nashua, whose shoulder injury midway through the second half took him out of the game for good and allowed the Eagles to open up a double-digit lead. “They were ready to play. They came out with a fire. We loved the atmosphere. I think we responded well. The last 10 minutes of the game we played great. We just have to do that for 40 minutes, that’s our problem.”

But this game had everything, and almost was worth the three-plus year wait. We said almost.

“That’s your thing and I understand that,” Eagles coach Dave Faucher said. “It’s stupid not to play, we’re five miles away. And to add a game that has the enthusiasm of a night like tonight, it’s good – it’s good for the players to be part of something like that, it’s good for the community. I really believe the level of play the community doesn’t even realize how high (it is).”

Faucher is right, but that’s a tale for another day. His team led 34-30 at halftime, having opened up a 10-point lead midway through the second half, thanks in part to Nelson’s injury. It was still 61-49 with just over four minutes left before the Raiders mounted a furious comeback, keyed by Poitras and two 3-pointers from the Raiders’ only senior, Will Snider.

But coming out of a timeout, Crosby hit that baseline 3-point jumper to make it 66-62 with 22 ticks left. The Eagles were only able to add a free throw the rest of the way, but breathed a sigh of relief when Whitney’s attempt, which was right on line, fell short. Tom Poitras had 20 points and Cliff Celestin 11 for the Raiders.

“We did some poor things down the stretch,” Faucher said, “but it was hard fought.”

Rivier coach Dave Morissette was clearly disappointed in the outcome, but not because it was a loss to a rival. In fact, he wouldn’t even acknowledge the added intensity that certainly existed in the gym.

“That’s your quote, not mine,” Morissette said, his team now 1-4. “I’m not buying into it. What do I think? I think we played very poorly. They played better than us. I thought we played a really bad game. Everything we practiced this week we did not follow through on tonight. I’m really disappointed in the way we played.”

Nelson thought for sure Whitney’s shot was going in for the win.

“I thought it was going in right from the start,” he said. “Great basketball. It was a fun game. It was a fun night, despite the loss.”

See? The rivalry is fun for the players as well as the fans, and media. It would have been bedlam had Whitney’s shot gone in.

“The last couple of minutes were crazy,” Speed said. “I wasn’t sure we were going to (hold onto) the lead. Daris hit that big shot. (The Raiders) kept coming, they did not give up. But we just kept fighting them and we got the win.”

First win of the year, and it came over a rival. Yes, a rival. It’s time for the Raiders to get over the Eagles move to the NECC and embrace this game.

“That,” Speed said, “makes it 100 percent better. I can’t wait ’til next year’s game.”

At least we won’t have to wait four more years for the next one.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or tking@nashuatelegraph.com.