Emmy Andujar's career-high 28 points add to long line of great performances against Iona, with latest one giving Manhattan a much-needed 80-77 overtime win over Tim Cluess' Gaels. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College)
Just over two years ago, Emmy Andujar announced his arrival to what has become one of the fiercest and strongest rivalries in local college basketball with a three-pointer that banked in at the buzzer to complete an 18-point comeback that gave his Manhattan team an unlikely upset victory against bitter adversary Iona.
Thirteen months later, the Bronx native was at it again, as his play down the stretch was instrumental in the Jaspers surviving the Gaels in double overtime, a victory that started an improbable run to the MAAC championship game, where Iona narrowly exacted revenge to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Act III of Andujar's one-man show, however, may have been his most scintillating display yet.
The former Rice High School standout was perfect through the first half, with 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting, and did not let up from there, ending the night with a career best 28 and a 12-of-18 mark from the field as Manhattan (21-7, 14-5 MAAC) rebounded from a crushing road loss to Siena with an 80-77 overtime victory over Iona; (19-9, 16-3 MAAC) who had already clinched a regular season conference championship after Quinnipiac lost to Siena last night, at a sold-out Draddy Gym.
"It's just great playing these guys," Andujar remarked after the game when asked about his perennial flair for the dramatic against the Gaels. "It's always been a battle ever since I've been here. We let people know we're still the team to beat," the junior forward proclaimed, a nod to Manhattan being picked as the preseason favorite in the conference's annual coaches' poll.
Amid the offensive fireworks from Andujar, what was arguably his biggest play of the night came on the defensive end, when he blocked a potential game-winning layup from Iona swingman Tre Bowman in the final seconds of regulation and drove down the floor looking for a second buzzer-beater that narrowly rimmed out to send the second installment of the MAAC's equivalent of the Super Bowl into an extra five minutes.
"He loves the big moments," Jaspers head coach Steve Masiello said of his initial recruit upon replacing Barry Rohrssen in 2011. "We look at that in recruiting. Certain kids are built for it, for the big moments, and he showed that tonight. When he's in attack mode, I think he's one of the best hybrid forwards there are."
George Beamon supplemented Andujar with another gritty double-double, accounting for 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Rhamel Brown chipped in with nine points and nine boards. For Iona, Bowman's 23 led the Gaels in a valiant effort, with Sean Armand adding 18 points and nine assists to go along with a 15-point, six-rebound, seven-block performance from Isaiah Williams.
Iona, who is assured of at least a trip to the NIT no matter what happens in next week's MAAC tournament, will conclude the regular season at home on Sunday against Rider, while Manhattan hosts Canisius with a chance to secure the No. 2 seed at the MassMutual Center just 48 hours removed from what stands out as one of the more emotional victories on the Jaspers' ledger this year.
"This rivalry has turned into something special," Masiello gushed. "I think it's one of the better rivalries in college basketball, regardless of level. You wish both teams could win because the kids put so much into it, everyone cares so much. The best came out in the players tonight, and I think that's what's awesome about this."