ALBANY, NY -- In a season filled with adversity and heartbreak, Manhattan's last game provided the final, cruel twist.
(video footage courtesy of Greg Ott, Rider University Athletic Communications)
A somewhat controversial three-pointer by Jimmie Taylor with four seconds remaining in regulation provided the ultimate coup de grace for the No. 11 seed Jaspers, who succumbed to sixth-seeded Rider by the final of 69-68 in the opening round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament after Zavier Turner's game-winning layup fell through the net one second after the buzzer.
"First and foremost, I'm happy for Jimmie Taylor," head coach Kevin Baggett proclaimed as the Broncs (18-14) advanced to face Iona on Saturday, but not without first surviving a punch to the jaw from the Jaspers. "He's an unbelievable human being, and I can't thank him enough for what he does. For him to make that winning three will be something that he'll forever remember, we'll forever remember, and I'll forever be appreciative of. We were struggling down the stretch and Jimmie hit a big basket."
"I thought it was a terrific basketball game," Steve Masiello graciously conceded even as Manhattan (10-22) was left with one last heartbreaking memento from a campaign they would certainly prefer to forget. "Rider did some very good things, they outrebounded us. Give them credit. Jimmie Taylor made a big play down the stretch, and that's what seniors do in these types of things."
To the Jaspers' credit, though, they erased a 10-point deficit late in the second half, using a 16-5 run to vault themselves back into the lead after Zavier Turner's three-pointer with 3:50 remaining in regulation put Manhattan ahead 61-60, their first lead since Calvin Crawford's game-opening basket.
But Rider responded, regaining the lead on a Norville Carey layup and then fighting back to tie the score at 66-all as Kahlil Thomas fought his way through the paint for a layup of his own. Manhattan then took one last initiative on an Aaron Walker basket shortly before the stage was set for Taylor's heroics.
"Emotions were definitely up and down," said Taylor after scoring the last of his 16 points. "I definitely knew that he (Turner) didn't get the shot off, I saw that right away. As far as my shot being a two or a three, that's when emotions really kicked in, because we didn't know if we were going to go into overtime or not. Some guys were celebrating, but we were trying to stay together."
"I honestly wasn't," he added when prompted about whether or not he was sure his shot was a three, "but I was hoping that it was."
Following Taylor's triple just off the right arc and Turner's late layup, a lengthy monitor review ensued to determine whether or not Turner beat the buzzer, and then whether or not Taylor's foot was on the three-point line, which would have made his three a two-point shot if it were. The review proved inconclusive and the call on the floor was confirmed, sending the Broncs into the quarterfinals.
"It was just inconclusive," Masiello said as he recounted his discussion with the officials in the aftermath of the final seconds. "I guess they couldn't -- there wasn't enough to say it wasn't a three. That happens."
A physical and defense-oriented first half shaped the final game of an evening tripleheader, one in which Rider took a 37-31 lead into the intermission behind a nearly impeccable performance from the free throw line, missing only two of their 15 attempts in the opening stanza. But every time it seemed the Broncs were prepared to drive away with the game, Manhattan found a way to stay within earshot, tightening the screws defensively when Rider took a 55-45 lead on Carey's jumper with just over eight minutes remaining.
Walker led Manhattan and all scorers with 18 points, with Zane Waterman limited to 15 after back-to-back 30-point games against the Broncs in the regular season. Taylor paced Rider with 16 points as Tyere Marshall contributed a career-high 15 before fouling out midway through the second half.
"I said to them after the game that I don't think we do the little things enough to deserve success on a consistent basis," Masiello admitted. "Unfortunately, sometimes you have to go through this."
For Rider, however, their snakebitten nature in recent tournament showings was reversed, and the fortuitous break could be the boost needed to make a run through the weekend.
"At times, you need a little luck when you come up in this tournament," said Baggett. "It's not always about the skill or what have you, it's about getting a little luck and some momentum on your side. And as I sat there and I thought about the basket and whether their basket was good, all of those things went through my mind and I said, 'we deserve this.' This group deserves this, and I'm glad we ended up coming in and winning the game."