Sunday, December 14, 2014

Late rally not enough for Manhattan in 63-55 loss to Rutgers

A valiant performance from Emmy Andujar pulled Manhattan within two late in second half, but Jaspers would get no closer in 63-55 loss to Rutgers. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

Playing inside Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2009, and taking the court as the favorite against Rutgers, Manhattan received the bulk of respect in their meeting with the Scarlet Knights in the opening game of the Holiday Festival.

"My team kept telling me to keep playing, and that it was going to come to me," said Rutgers forward Kadeem Jack, whose 24-point, 9-rebound effort led all scorers. "It finally came to me today."

After drawing first blood on a reverse layup by Tyler Wilson one minute in, it was an uphill battle for the Jaspers, who trailed by as many as 13 early in the second half before a 17-6 run brought Manhattan within two. However, it was as close as they would get, as Rutgers (6-4) hit free throws down the stretch to close out the game, walking out of the Garden 63-55 winners.

"It wasn't the best offensive game or the prettiest game," Steve Masiello intimated, "but I thought both teams really competed. We came out a little flat tonight, I thought. No excuses for that. I thought our first half play was kind of un-Manhattan-like."

On an afternoon where the Jaspers (2-6) made only one of their 14 three-point attempts, and one in which leading scorer Shane Richards was hampered due to a fractured right hand that Masiello revealed the junior forward suffered a week ago against Marist, it was Emmy Andujar carrying Manhattan on his back with 21 points and 9 rebounds.

"We're now just getting guys healthy again," Andujar offered with regard to his team's lackluster start, "so we're trying to build that chemistry. We're a young team, so we've still got a lot of growing pains."

Such youth was evident in the opening half, where the Jaspers struggled while Rutgers shot 59 percent (13-for-22) from the field. The Manhattan defense held the Scarlet Knights to only six field goals the rest of the way, and after going down 42-29 with 16:06 remaining in regulation, Manhattan started to chip away at the deficit as Andujar revisited his career-long flair for the dramatic.

Yet, as Manhattan pulled within two on three different instances down the stretch, Rutgers salted the game away at the free throw line, closing on an 11-5 run and making all but two of their 25 attempts at the charity stripe.

"We knew what to expect," Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan said of Manhattan's run. "We didn't handle it (Manhattan's defense) as well as I thought we could."

Manhattan forced 21 Rutgers turnovers, but their transition offense could only muster 15 points off the miscues by the Scarlet Knights, who only attempted six three-pointers on the day, as Jack's presence under the rim provided a primer on how to attack the Jaspers' pressure.

"He was alert enough and disciplined enough to find the holes in the zone," Jordan said of Jack, "and that was great for us. It got to a point where the team who made less mistakes would win. There was a lot of not-so-pretty basketball."

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