Emmy Andujar accepts Mike Cohen MVP Award after his 14-point, 9-rebound outing reclaims Battle of the Bronx title for Manhattan, who defeated Fordham 71-57. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College Athletics)
In his first three years in a Manhattan uniform, Emmy Andujar may have been overshadowed, but his contributions to the Jaspers' success were on par with those from the better-known names of George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado.
Now a senior, Andujar is the most recognizable name on the roster in Riverdale, but as his familiarity with the common fan has increased, the same versatility and "glue guy" status he has carried with him from his first game has not only remained, but grown in direct proportion to his legacy.
Already in the midst of a Player of the Year-caliber season just six weeks into the year, Andujar provided another solid game against a rival of the Jaspers, leading the way with 14 points and nine rebounds as Manhattan (4-7) won its second straight game, defeating Fordham (3-6) by the final of 71-57 at Barclays Center, taking the 107th edition of the Battle of the Bronx on a night where each of their three top scorers ended the night in double figures for the first time all season.
"I thought our team really showed great poise," head coach Steve Masiello proudly beamed as Manhattan won its third game against Fordham in his four-year tenure. "We got back to our defensive mindset, started getting stops, (and) got some easy baskets in transition."
The win was not a complete cruise control effort for the Jaspers, who spotted Fordham a 10-0 run to start the game before Ashton Pankey broke the ice on the scoreboard after a scoreless first 4:35. The Rams' opening salvo eventually reached 16-4, but the eagerness of their opponent to establish a large lead did not faze the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions.
"I thought we were a little tentative," Masiello admitted, "but we kept our poise. We never got rattled, we didn't get too up, we didn't panic. We got our rhythm going, and just kind of got back to doing what we do."
What Manhattan did was pressure Fordham into oblivion, as their suffocating full-court press kicked into high gear during a 48-17 run that carried over into the middle of the second half, something the Jaspers' coach was particularly pleased with.
"You know," Masiello revealed, "I think we're a decent team when we're not pressing. I think we're a borderline nightmare when we're in our press, and not so much that we're going to have our way, but we're just not going to let you do what you practice, and we're going to force your guys to make plays."
One player who did make plays, and got somewhat lost in the shuffle due to the balanced scoring efforts of the Jaspers as a whole, was Andujar; whose near double-double won him the Mike Cohen Most Valuable Player award, and earned him glowing praise from the man who made the Bronx native his first recruit back in 2011.
"This kid," Masiello raved about Andujar, "is what college basketball is all about. What he's been through, how he handles himself. He's a coach's dream."
In addition to Andujar, Shane Richards added 12 points in his second consecutive game with four three-pointers, and Ashton Pankey contributed 12 points and five rebounds to a cause where every Jasper except Jermaine Lawrence cracked the scoreboard. Mandell Thomas was Fordham's leading scorer with 14 points, while highly touted freshman Eric Paschall was held to just seven markers on 2-of-8 shooting.
"We started hot and we ended cold," a brutally honest Rams head coach Tom Pecora conceded. "We didn't make those effort plays in the second half, and they did."
While Manhattan gets the rest of 2014 off before resuming MAAC play with their annual road trip to western New York to play Niagara and Canisius, Fordham gets two more games before the start of Atlantic 10 play, with Howard and South Carolina State coming to Rose Hill Gym. All in all, though, Manhattan's leader, who has been through the wringer both on and off the court over the past few months, was satisfied with his product tonight.
"It's just a really good win," Masiello surmised, "because I started to see the old Manhattan team and our ways start to come back, which is what I planned on as we got healthy and guys came around. I'm very happy for these guys, and we'll go from here."