Manhattan escapes Niagara’s upset bid

With 8:46 remaining in the game Niagara’s Juan’ya Green went up for a fast break layup when he was met at the rim by Manhattan freshman Emmy Andujar who blocked the ball into the arms of Kidani Brutus. The Jaspers got the ball out on the fast break and George Beamon finished a three-point play on the other end. It was a five-point swing and the biggest sequence of a difficult 71-64 home win for Manhattan.

The Jaspers led by 12 points with 9:17 in the first half, but a barrange of three-pointers by Niagara in the second half allowed them to take the seven-point lead the Purple Eagles enjoyed as Green went up for his layup. Even after the block Manhattan had to battle back, it did so thanks to 25-30 free throw shooting, including 16 in a row in the second half, and a 10 points and eight boards from Donovan Kates.

Still, in a game with nine lead changes, the Jaspers didn’t take the lead for good until Roberto Colonette’s free throw with 1:33 remaining in the game. Brutus sealed the victory with his three-pointer as the shot clock wound down, which made it 68-64 with 37 seconds remaining.

“The clock was running down, coach told me to pass it,” Brutus said. “I didn’t feel like passing it, so I shot it and it went in.”

Afterwards Steve Masiello claimed he hadn’t been telling Brutus to pass anyways, but that he was expecting him to step in on the shot. No matter the process, the resulting three-pointer sealed Manhattan fifth straight MAAC victory. Andujar struggled during the game. He had five points, five assists, five rebounds and four turnovers, but made a big difference on the defensive end.

“What I loved about [Andujar] is that he didn’t let his offense affect his defense,” Masiello. “That was the play of the game. … Changed the whole game that one play did and it starts with the defense and that’s what we pride ourselves on.”

Overall Manhattan held Niagara to 38 percent (23-60) shooting from the field and forced 15 turnovers. The Jaspers committed 18 turnovers of their own, which led to 22 points for the Purple Eagles. Masiello was worried about Niagara’s shooting coming into the game, so much so that he walked out of shoot around in order to get his team’s urgency up for the game.

It worked early in the game. Manhattan started strong, jumping out to a 19-7 lead after Colonette’s dunk with 9:07 remaining in the first half. The Jaspers enjoyed a seven-point lead at halftime and looked to be in control up 12 again with 15:19 remaining in the second half. But Niagara went on a 27-7 run, including five three pointers, that put them up by seven before Andujar’s block.

Niagara’s leading scorer, Juan’ya Green, struggled to get into the offensive flow of the game. He finished 1-9 from the field and scored just six points. He was able to take advantage of the fact that Manhattan was concentrating so hard on him and dish out seven assists against just one turnover. Green used his ability to get into the paint to kick back out to teammates for easy shots.

Beamon led all scorers with 24 points on 16 shots, including 4-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Michael Alvarado also added 13 points. Antoine Mason led the Purple Eagles with 19 points.

Manhattan is now 14-7 and 7-2 in the MAAC. The Jaspers travel to northern New York for a two-game swing against Canisius and this same Niagara team next weekend.

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