George Beamon caught fire in second half, scoring 23 of his 25 points after intermission as Manhattan steamrolled Quinnipiac to return to MAAC championship game. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College)
Two down, one to go.
One BIG one to go, against the reigning conference champions, fulfilling the dream matchup that media and fans had clamored for since the bracket was established.
Hours after Iona became the first to advance to tomorrow night's MAAC championship game, the Gaels' third in Tim Cluess' four-year tenure, their co-favorite and adversary followed suit, as Manhattan (24-7) emerged from a first half struggle to shoot and power their way past Quinnipiac (20-12) by the final of 87-68 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
"I thought we did a good job of coming out and really forcing pace," Jaspers head coach Steve Masiello said after the Jaspers reached their second consecutive title game, having lost to Iona last season. "I thought we got the game on our terms. The first two games, (against Quinnipiac) we tried to play power versus power and go big, and that was my fault."
After a first half that ended deadlocked at 40 despite an 11-1 Manhattan run to start the game, the Jaspers exploded out of the blocks with an 11-3 spurt that was started by a layup from George Beamon, who scored all but two of his game-high 25 points after the intermission. Emmy Andujar chipped in with 21 points off the bench, while Rhamel Brown finished a rebound short of a double-double, collecting 16 points and nine boards to go with four blocked shots.
The Bobcats made one final attempt to cut into the lead after Zaid Hearst pulled Quinnipiac to within seven at 56-49 with 13:16 to go before getting a steal on the ensuing possession. However, the junior guard missed a layup attempt, and Michael Alvarado capitalized by grabbing the rebound and finishing himself to start a 10-2 run that put Manhattan ahead by 15 with 8:38 remaining. Quinnipiac stayed within 14 going into the final five minutes, but Hearst fouled Beamon beyond the arc, a call that turned into a four-point play and the start of a stretch where Manhattan's first team all-MAAC guard scored ten consecutive points for his team, icing the outcome and bringing the Jaspers to the precipice of the program's first NCAA Tournament berth since 2004, when Masiello was an assistant to former head coach Bobby Gonzalez.
For Manhattan, though, one more game remains, against a team their coach admittedly holds in high regard.
"They're the real deal," Masiello said of Tim Cluess and Iona. "That's a Sweet 16 team. That's how good they are. That team is the real deal, and we've got to be careful with how we play them."
His hero of the night, on the contrary, embraced the Gaels, and hopes for the best.
"It's going to be a good game," Beamon intimated. "I love good games. I don't want to go out there and have a one-sided game. It's going to be a show, No. 1 and No. 2."
He could not have been any more right.