Three Thoughts: Manhattan 71, Iona 68

Three thoughts from Manhattan’s MAAC championship game 71-68 victory over Iona on Monday night in what could be the final MAAC tournament game in Springfield.

Manhattan head coach Steven Masiello celebrates after his team captures the MAAC championship (photo courtesy: Stockton Photo)
Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello celebrates after his team captures the MAAC championship (photo courtesy: Stockton Photo)

Manhattan Hitting Their Best Stride at the Right Time: The Jaspers picked a good time to start playing their best basketball of the season. Over the last four games, Manhattan has held its opponent under 70 points. This includes victories over Canisius, Quinnipiac, and Iona.

Manhattan’s suffocating defense was able to join some exclusive company Monday night. Iona’s explosive offense, which has the Gaels ranked fourth in the nation in points per game (84.0), has only been held under 70 points in two other games this year.

The most recent occasion was a 62-59 victory over Saint Peter’s which was played almost entirely at the Peacocks’ slower tempo.  The other game was an 86-66 loss to then second-ranked Kansas, who have a couple of guys named Wiggins and Embiid on their roster (and were healthy at the time).

Despite all their recent success in winning 11 of their last 12 games to end the season and playing exceptional defense the whole way through, head coach Steve Masiello feels there are always ways to get better.

“There’s still a lot of room for improvement,” Masiello said. “That’s what I love about this team. Early in the year we tried to be a very good offensive team and a very good defensive team. We lost to Iona the first time January 31st and what we said was ‘Let’s just become a great defensive team. Forget about being a good offensive team.’ When we did that, our offense actually got better. We went from shooting 43% to shooting 47% as a team. All we worry about is defense, but there’s still areas to improve on.”

Masiello Has Turned this Program Around: When Steve Masiello took the head coaching position at Manhattan College in 2011, the Jaspers were coming off a season where they finished with a dismal 6-25 record and just a 3-15 mark in conference play.

In Masiello’s three years at the helm, his Manhattan teams have achieved a 60-38 overall record and posted a 36-20 mark during conference play. Most importantly, Masiello has brought his Jaspers to the MAAC title game the last two years, finally winning the whole thing Monday night.

“I had 110% faith [coach Masiello would turn the program around],” senior guard George Beamon said. “I didn’t know him, but I asked a couple of guys and they told me he was a good guy and I just believed in him. Coming from 3-15, you’ve got to put your trust somewhere, so we trusted him. I got my guys together and we believed in him. It was the biggest turnaround when he first started, and last year we went to the championship game, and now we’re here.  We made it.”

Masiello gives much of the credit for the program’s revival to his three starting seniors. Beamon, Rhamel Brown, and Michael Alvarado have powered the Jaspers to their first NCAA tournament berth in ten years, but they have all experienced the lows of the program before Masiello’s arrival.

“We’ve been through so much,” Masiello said. “We’ve seen so much, we’ve had so many ups and downs. These three guys didn’t even know me. I didn’t recruit these guys, and they just believed in me like it was meant to be. I’ve just got great kids.”

Iona’s Future is Much More Certain: The Gaels have established themselves as the class of the MAAC in recent years, making the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons. Their rivalry with Manhattan has also helped the league reach an audience in one of the largest media markets in the world: New York City.  Although the Jaspers have taken the Gaels’ crown this year, Iona has the pieces in place to maintain their level of success in the future.

Iona loses key players like Sean Armand and Tre Bowman following this postseason, but no one can deny the impact losing Beamon, Brown, and Alvarado will have on Manhattan. The senior trio represent Manhattan’s three leading scorers. The top scorers the Jaspers return next year will be Emmy Andujar and Shane Richards, who each average 8.4 ppg.

Masiello often praises his trio of seniors, but rarely speaks about what life may be like without them. The Jasper faithful rightfully deserve to enjoy every minute of this team’s success, but next year may be a very different story in Riverdale. With Iona returning three double-digit scorers, it will be up to Masiello and crew to keep up as they seek to defend their MAAC crown.

Vincent Simone is helping cover the MAAC this season for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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