Sunday, February 25, 2018

Jaspers win senior night thriller, will face Iona in MAAC tourney quarters

Rich Williams and Zavier Turner combined for 54 points as Manhattan outlasted Quinnipiac in double overtime to clinch final first-round bye in MAAC Tournament. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- With one simple text message, Zavier Turner reinforced the mindset for Manhattan in its regular-season finale Sunday.

"I texted Rich (Williams) before the game, and I told him, 'let's lay it on the line right now for this last home game," he revealed after he and three of his senior classmates walked off the Draddy Gymnasium floor for the final time as winners, defeating Quinnipiac in a 92-86 double-overtime victory that guaranteed the Jaspers the No. 5 seed in next week's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, and a bye into the quarterfinals, where they will face archrival Iona. "That's what happened."

Honored in a pregame ceremony along with fellow graduating seniors Calvin Crawford and Zane Waterman, Turner and Williams combined for 54 points as Manhattan (14-16, 9-9 MAAC) held off a determined Quinnipiac team in a manner symbolic of how the quartet of Jasper upperclassmen made a name for itself over the past four -- five in Williams' case -- seasons and two championship runs.

After a low-scoring first half that ended with the hosts taking a 26-23 lead into the locker room and Cameron Young -- Quinnipiac's leading scorer -- being held without a point in a classic case of the Jasper defense daring the Bobcats' second and third options to beat them, Turner was held scoreless as well, and took it upon himself to change the narrative in a revelatory moment during the intermission.

"I thought about everybody in this room right here," he said before erupting for 31 points between the second half and two overtime periods. "We put in a lot of work in this gym, you know what I mean? I was thinking about every one of these guys right here and I felt like I was letting them down in the first half. I put my thoughts together, and put everything on the line."

Turner's first points came on a jumper with 12:40 remaining in regulation, breaking a 36-all tie and setting the stage for a stretch duel with Young, who led Quinnipiac (10-20, 7-11 MAAC) with 22 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort. Not to be outdone amid the cavalcade of seniors on both sides, freshman Rich Kelly made his presence known with a three-pointer that put the visitors ahead, 56-54, with 3:36 to play. Manhattan would respond with five straight, capped by a Tom Capuano three, to retake a lead they would soon stretch to four points with just over a minute on the clock before a pair of triples from Isaiah Washington, and then Kelly, gave Quinnipiac a 65-63 edge with 16 seconds to go.

After a timeout by head coach Steve Masiello, Turner drove the lane for a game-tying layup with four seconds left, then survived a misfire from Young for the win just before the buzzer, signifying the need for an extra five minutes.

The Bobcats struck first in the extra session, on a jumper by Young, but Williams; whose Draddy swan song included a 23-point, 11-rebound double-double, provided the answer with a layup to knot the score at 67. The fifth-year senior did so again with a three on the ensuing possession following a go-ahead Jacob Rigoni basket, putting the Jaspers up one. The two teams traded blows once more, with Turner draining a three to swing the pendulum again, then Chaise Daniels and Kelly scoring four unanswered points before a Williams triple in the left corner with seven ticks on the clock squared the match at 76 apiece.

"Fortunately, throughout the season, we've been put in those types of positions," said Williams of the possession in which he extended the game from beyond the arc. "It was just about being in that position before and keeping our poise as an organization. Coach drew up a great play, and that's what happened."

With 5.7 seconds left in the first overtime, the Bobcats had a chance to break the Jaspers' hearts, but a Young three for the win was once again errant, requiring a second extra frame. The Bobcats, even after Rigoni (18 points, 9 rebounds) and Turner traded threes about a minute apart, emerged the aggressor, but the Manhattan seniors made one valiant last stand. Waterman's one-handed baseline dunk sparked a game-ending 9-0 run, with a block at the other end on a Young dunk attempt setting up a Turner three on the next trip down the floor to give the Jaspers the lead for good. Williams and Turner would go on to hit two free throws each to provide the final margin of victory in a coda to their four years of sacrifice and perseverance that will not soon be forgotten in the northwest corner of the Bronx. 

"I think it's very fitting that these four seniors go out that way," Masiello remarked. "It's a culmination of their careers of adversity, being under-recruited, just everything. They weren't going to go out with an easy win. It was going to have to be a representation of their careers, and I just thought that their will to win, their character, and their toughness was just something really special tonight."

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