For the first time in ten years, the Manhattan Jaspers are headed to the Big Dance. Manhattan defeated New York rival Iona 71-68 in the MAAC championship game Monday night, avenging their own three-point loss in the same championship game last year.
An emotional Steve Masiello spoke after the game about how much it means to return to the NCAA tournament, this time as a head coach.
“This one won’t sink in for a long time,” Masiello said. “This is more special than anything. I’ve been to two Final Fours and this is right there with that. It’s just an overwhelming feeling to have accomplished so much with great people.”
The Gaels were their usual selves early on, pushing the tempo and getting out in transition, but Manhattan was able to turn the momentum before things got out of control. Iona opened the game on a 10-4 run thanks to their high-flying style, but the Jaspers were able to knot things at 16 on a George Beamon three-pointer.
Beamon and fellow senior Rhamel Brown were able to spark an 11-0 run for Manhattan during which the Jaspers were able to hold Iona scoreless for over four minutes. The Gaels finally got things going again with a 5-0 run, but Emmy Andujar scored four straight for Manhattan to close out the half, giving the Jaspers a 33-27 lead at the break.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first, as Iona finally knocked down another three-pointer which sparked an 11-2 run that gave the Gaels a 38-35 lead. However, Manhattan quickly responded with a 9-0 run of their own which ended up giving the Jaspers the lead for good.
Iona kept the game close throughout the final frame and got within two points during the final minute. Down 71-68 with 16 seconds remaining, the Gaels got one final chance to tie the game. However, the Manhattan defense was stifling in the waning moments and David Laury was forced to put up an off-balance three-point attempt which bounced off the rim.
“We ran a play we usually run,” Iona guard A.J. English said. “It was just a real physical game at the time and we didn’t execute the play, simple as that. The set didn’t go through, so Dave ended up taking the last shot.
“It wasn’t really surprising,” Laury said of the fact the ball came to him in the final seconds. “They were playing tough defense all night, so I thought we would at least get a good look, but they did a good job switching out. Unfortunately I had to take the shot and I missed it.”
Beamon led all scorers with 16 points and also pulled down eight rebounds. After sitting out the championship game last year, the senior guard was overjoyed to be able to take part this year and help his team with the championship.
“I’m just ecstatic right now,” Beamon said. “I’m at a loss for words. I’m just happy. I’ve never felt this feeling before.
Three other Jaspers finished the game in double figures. Brown finished just behind Beamon with 15 of his own, while Shane Richards knocked down five shots from behind the arc to help him finish with 14. Emmy Andujar rounded out the scoring with 12, including four straight to end the first half as well as the Jaspers’ first bucket of the second half.
The story of the night for Iona was their unusually poor shooting effort. The Gaels, who lead the nation in three-point field goals, were just 2-of-12 (16.7%) from behind the arc in the first half. They actually got out to a hot start, making two of their first three attempts, but then went without a three-pointer for nearly 20 minutes before English knocked one down early in the second half. Iona finished the game just 6-of-21 (28.6%) from deep.
“We shot better in the second half, but I think we took a lot of contested shots,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “The guys just missed shots. Second half we made the extra pass a little bit more, and I think that was part of our problem. We didn’t pass the ball as crisply as we normally do, and we over-dribbled the basketball and found some trouble.”
Iona finished the game with five players in double figures. The Gaels were led by English with 15. Tre Bowman shot 50% for the evening and ended up just behind English with 14 of his own. David Laury and Sean Armand each poured in 13 points, with Laury adding 11 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the year. Isaiah Williams completed the scoring for Iona with 10.
For the Gaels, an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is a long shot. In the more likely event they don’t hear their name called this Sunday, Iona will still be able to take part in postseason basketball. Because the Gaels won the regular season MAAC title, they are guaranteed at least a spot in this year’s NIT.
Manhattan will now be able to rest a bit as they prepare for the NCAA tournament. The Jaspers will learn their first-round opponent this Sunday during CBS’ Selection Sunday special. In the meantime, New York City can rest easy knowing it will have at least one representative this March.
Vincent Simone will be helping to cover the MAAC this season for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.