Tom Capuano's three-pointer in final minute served as dagger for Manhattan, whose 9-0 run in last 1:42 gave Jaspers a 78-71 win over MAAC leader Monmouth. (Photo courtesy of the Manhattan College Quadrangle)
RIVERDALE, NY -- Leading up to Monmouth's pivotal clash with conference foe Manhattan, head coach King Rice characterized the battle with the Jaspers as one that would be a "tough, hard-nosed, hard-fought" contest.
Rice, who has done an excellent job of hitting the right notes more often than not as the Hawks navigate a banner season, proved to be prophetic once again, only this time in a losing effort.
Fighting their way back to a 71-69 lead with 1:57 to play in regulation, Monmouth seemed ready to emerge from Draddy Gymnasium victorious for the first time in program history. But it was Manhattan, (8-10, 5-4 MAAC) who proved to be the ultimate aggressor, scoring the game's final nine points as part of a 13-2 run to erase the Hawks' (14-5, 6-2 MAAC) comeback, defeating Monmouth by the final of 78-71 to end the visitors' five-game winning streak.
"They outplayed us," a candid and laid-back Rice offered. "We had a great start, and then we got too comfortable. You can't do that against Manhattan's team."
Manhattan's game-defining run started with 1:42 on the clock in the second half, when Shane Richards converted a three-pointer from the right arc off a pass from RaShawn Stores, whose 14 points made him one of four Jaspers in double figures. Leading by two with a minute to go, Calvin Crawford; whose career-high 20 points led all scorers, picked up a rebound at Monmouth's end of the floor and dished it to Richards, who found freshman Thomas Capuano all alone in the left corner for a three that essentially served as the dagger for the two-time reigning MAAC champions.
"I knew they were going to jump the ball," Capuano said when recounting the possession in which he drained his backbreaking triple. "I knew they were going to leave me at some point, and Ray (Stores) just did a great job. He dribbled the ball for the whole possession around everybody, and just found me late."
Two free throws from Stores provided the final margin of victory for Manhattan, who fell victim to a fast-starting Monmouth team that opened the game on a 14-2 run, connecting on five of their first six field goals before only converting four for the remainder of the first half.
"We were up early, then (we) let them back in it," Justin Robinson stated after the junior point guard ended the night with a workmanlike 11 points to complement seven assists and six rebounds. "We had to claw our way back, and they're going to make plays down the stretch. We just didn't."
"We've got to grow up," Robinson expounded as Monmouth fell to 0-5 all-time when visiting Riverdale. "We've got to take coaching better, not just from the coach, but from the floor leaders as well."
An 18-5 run by Manhattan out of the first media timeout gave the Jaspers their first lead of the contest, at 20-19. Monmouth would respond with seven of the next ten points before the home team's 13-4 spurt going to the locker room put them ahead by a 36-30 count at the intermission. The Jasper lead would remain two possessions or more until Monmouth's 12-2 run vaulted the Hawks back in front, 69-65, setting the stage for Manhattan's closing outburst to seal what becomes the team's signature win of the season.
"We were just fortunate to get a great win that we needed," a relieved Steve Masiello remarked. "I thought our kids stepped up to the challenge. We spoke about playing with passion, and I thought RaShawn and Shane set the tone tonight. Just a lot of good things, and a great basketball game that could have been won by either team. That's what this conference is all about. I take my hat off, and I'm really proud of my kids."