The third time was the charm for Steve Masiello’s Jaspers.
Manhattan avenged two losses to Quinnipiac in the regular season with an 87-68 victory in the semifinals of the MAAC tournament and advanced to a showdown with New York rival Iona in the conference final Monday evening.
The Jaspers were led by a stellar effort from senior guard George Beamon, who poured in 25 points to lead all scorers. This was by far Beamon’s best effort against the Bobcats and the main reason Manhattan was able to turn the tables this time around. Beamon finished 8-for-18 from the field, but knocked down five of nine attempts from behind the arc to spark Manhattan in the second half.
”It’s my fault,” Masiello joked. “We e-mailed George and he thought the tournament started tonight at nine, so he was a little late.”
“I realized we needed defense to win this game,” Beamon said. “We got some steals, got out in transition, and it really opened our offensive game up. Everything starts on the defensive end for us. That’s how we live; that’s our brand.”
Manhattan opened the game on an 11-1 run in the first three minutes, and it looked like the Jaspers would have their own way throughout. During the run, Manhattan’s aggressive defense forced four Bobcat turnovers. Rhamel Brown also made his presence known early by scoring the Jaspers’ first six points, including two layups following offensive rebounds.
However, after a timeout Quinnipiac responded with a 10-0 run to tie the game at 11. Much of Quinnipiac’s ability to overcome Manhattan’s press was due to the insertion of Kasim Chandler into the lineup after the slow opening minutes. The freshman guard continually broke the Jaspers’ press and was instrumental in helping the Bobcats get back in the game.
“Kasim came up here last night and was a stabilizing force for us when we got behind, and the kid was fearless against their pressure tonight,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “I throw him in there for 31 minutes and he has one turnover against that team as a freshman. I’m pretty proud of him.”
The first half continued with each team trading runs. The Bobcats grabbed their first lead on two Ike Azotam free throws at the 6:33 mark, but the teams exchanged leads another six times in the half before heading into the break tied at 40.
The second half started much the same way the first did, but this time Manhattan was able to maintain their momentum. The Jaspers opened the second frame on an 11-3 run capped by seven straight points from Beamon, who scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half.
That run helped Manhattan open up an eight point lead, and they never looked back from there. The Jaspers extended their advantage to as much as 22 late in the game thanks in large part to the powerful play of Beamon and Emmy Andujar.
A major part of Manhattan’s game plan to turn the tables on Quinnipiac was to run more than they had in the previous meetings.
“The first two games we tried to play power versus power and go big,” Masiello said. “I thought we could overpower them. Tonight we decided to play on our terms and play a speed game. I wasn’t sure if they could play a full 40 minutes at that pace. Not that they’re not good enough to do that, but I haven’t seen them do it all year. That was the advantage.”
The greatest beneficiary of this decision to play quicker was Andujar, who finished second behind Beamon with 21 points off the bench. The junior forward continually drove through the lane with success and helped pour it on in the second half. Brown, who finished the game with 16 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks, was the only other Jasper in double figures.
Quinnipiac was led by Azotam, who achieved his 18th double-double of the year with 18 points and 10 rebounds. With his tenth rebound, Azotam also became the all-time leading rebounder in Division-I program history with 1,033 boards. Zaid Hearst went 9-11 from the free throw line on his way to 15 points, while Chandler finished with 14 points and seven assists against one turnover.
Although Quinnipiac is known for hitting the glass hard, Manhattan won the rebounding battle 37-34, ending the Bobcats’ streak of 11 straight victories on the boards.
Part of the adjustment in moving from the NEC to the MAAC came into play as well. In the NEC conference tournament, teams have two or three days in between games, whereas the MAAC plays all of its games on back to back nights.
“We could have really used two days for Manhattan,” Moore said. “That’s how special they are and how well they’re playing right now, but just like golf you have to play it as it lies. I also think we would have handled the early pressure better if we had a couple of days in between, but that wasn’t the difference in the game. Manhattan was the more mentally tough team in the second half.”
Manhattan will take on Iona for the MAAC championship Monday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. The game serves as a rematch of last year’s conference championship which Iona won 60-57. A year’s worth of preparation, as well as an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament will be on the line.
“I like the idea of playing Iona for the championship,” Beamon said. “It’s just going to be a good game. I love good games. We both go out there to play. It’s going to be a show.”
Vincent Simone will be helping to cover the MAAC this season for Big Apple Buckets and will have continual updates from this weekend’s games in Springfield. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.