RaShawn Stores was integral part of Manhattan's 68-63 win over Canisius, scoring 15 points and holding likely MAAC Player of the Year Billy Baron to just 10. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College)
Following Friday night's thrilling overtime win against archrival Iona, Manhattan forward Emmy Andujar remained steadfast in his belief that the Jaspers were still the team to beat.
Manhattan may not have won the regular season MAAC championship, but after tonight's first encore since their resilient victory 48 hours ago may have convinced several others of Andujar's bold assessment.
Facing a Canisius team that had just as much to play for as the Jaspers considering the winner earned the No. 2 seed in next weekend's MAAC tournament, Manhattan (22-7, 15-5 MAAC) struck early and often, then used their suffocating defense to hold off the Golden Griffins (20-11, 14-6 MAAC) by the final of 68-63, rendering all-world guard and MAAC Player of the Year favorite Billy Baron into a non-factor, as he managed just 10 points against staunch pressure from junior guard RaShawn Stores.
"Our defense started and ended with one person today," said Rhamel Brown; who was one of three seniors honored before what was his final regular season home game at Draddy Gym, "and that person was RaShawn Stores. I'm not sure how many points he (Baron) had, but that's probably the hardest he's ever had to work for it."
Baron drew first blood with a three-pointer that was beyond NBA range, but a 13-3 Manhattan run quelled any chance of a hot start by Canisius, and the Jaspers were able to sustain their double-digit lead despite Brown picking up two fouls early in the first half, as hot shooting from Stores and George Beamon; who scored 11 of his 21 points in the opening stanza, sent the home team into the locker room with a 45-32 halftime cushion.
An 11-0 Canisius run out of the intermission brought the visitors to within two and kept the Manhattan lead at single digits through the remainder of the evening. After both teams traded baskets through most of the second half, a 7-1 Griffs run tied the game at 63, as Chris Perez's three-pointer knotted the proceedings with 3:17 to go in regulation.
However, it was the last basket Canisius would score. After a free throw by Brown gave Manhattan a one-point lead, Zach Lewis had a chance to complete the comeback, but was stripped by Beamon, who sprinted down the floor for a breakaway layup to make it 66-63 with 1:22 remaining. Stores' two foul shots in the final seconds provided the final margin of victory as Manhattan kept the chance of a third meeting with Iona in next Monday's MAAC championship alive, whereas Canisius will have to go through a suddenly resurgent Siena team that looms a dangerous matchup in Saturday's quarterfinals.
"We're ready for anybody," Beamon said when asked of a potential rematch with the Gaels. "We don't care who we play against. We've been through it, we've got a veteran group. We just lock in, stay together. We're a family."