Honored in pregame ceremony, Manhattan's senior class accounted for one final home win, defeating Quinnipiac 69-65 in last tuneup before MAAC Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College Athletics)
In his pregame address to the members of his senior class, Steve Masiello spoke from the heart, telling the group of players who served as his first batch of recruits upon his arrival at Manhattan how much they meant to him personally, and that he loved them more than they could imagine.
Feeding off the emotion and the inspiring remarks, the outgoing group of Jaspers did their leader proud, valiantly standing tall on defense in the final seconds as Manhattan (16-13, 13-7 MAAC) provided a final memory to last for the ages, holding off Quinnipiac (15-14, 9-11) by the final of 69-65 at Draddy Gymnasium.
"Great win, not because we beat Quinnipiac, but just for these guys," Masiello said after the victory, which assured the Jaspers of the No. 3 seed as they begin the next step in their MAAC championship defense. "It's very fitting we won on a defensive stop, as their careers should end."
Through the opening minutes, a last-second stand looked as though it would not be necessary, as Manhattan opened the game on a 9-2 run, outrebounding the tenacious Bobcats 8-4 at the first media timeout, with Emmy Andujar accounting for five of the eight boards on an afternoon where the senior forward would lead the Jaspers with 18 points. But Quinnipiac would fight back, going on a 10-2 run shortly thereafter to rip the lead away for a moment, and ultimately playing Manhattan tight through the remainder of the opening stanza, which ended with the Bobcats trailing 37-34 entering the locker room.
Manhattan came out of the intermission in the role of the aggressor, ripping off an 11-4 spurt to take a ten-point lead at 48-38, but Quinnipiac would bring their deficit back to four markers several minutes later. A three-pointer from Zaid Hearst, whose 22 points led all scorers, with 4:40 remaining cut the Jasper lead to two, at 61-59, but a 7-3 run from Manhattan pushed the edge back to six. James Ford's three with 1:14 to play made the game a one-possession affair once again, and following a Manhattan miss, the Bobcats had the ball with one last chance to tie, but Evan Conti's triple attempt fell short.
"We were actually trying to run Evan off a couple of screens up top," a dejected Tom Moore said of Quinnipiac's final possession, "and get Z(aid) off a pin-down coming off, but they switch everything really aggressively, and their defense is predicated on playing out at 30 feet anyway. They're the best team, in my opinion, in this league, of playing you hard above the three-point line, so you're playing into their wheelhouse when you have to get a three with ten seconds to go. Evan tried to create something, but it didn't work out."
Shane Richards scooped up Conti's errant heave, drew a foul on the rebound, and drained one of two free throws to seal the final margin of victory, but at the end of the day, the defensive mindset that was instilled in Manhattan's upperclassmen was reinforced once more, perhaps never more strongly.
"Defense is big," point guard RaShawn Stores, who was honored along with Andujar, Donovan Kates and Ashton Pankey; who Masiello said would possibly apply for a sixth year of eligibility at the conclusion of the season, said. "That's one of our main goals," Stores continued. That's every day. Offense is going to come. Defense is what wins games and wins championships. Through the year, we always talk about the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Lewis. That wins games. Ray Lewis won championships because he played hard, and that's the key. That's bigger than everything on senior night. We're leaving a foundation for the younger guys, we let them know defense wins games. That's the culture that Coach Mas taught us in our first year here."