Oh, so Close: Jaspers Fall Shy of a Victory Over Louisville

Cirillo_Emmy NCAA Tourny
The Jaspers came within two minutes of pulling off perhaps the biggest upset in school history. Photo by Chris Cirillo.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Two minutes and 34 seconds.

That is the time that separated the Manhattan Jaspers from pulling off one of the major wins in its history.

But after a Tyler Wilson layup gave Manhattan a 60-58 lead at the 2:34 mark, Louisville went on a 13-4 run to close the game and crush Manhattan’s dreams of advancing onto the next round of the NCAA Tournament.

For Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello, who was taking on his mentor Rick Pitino, the defeat was one of the most agonizing of his career.

“It’s emotional,” he said. “You look down, and the guy who kind of made you who you are is your enemy for 40 minutes. So it’s tough. You know, it’s an honor to be on the other sideline, but it’s about the kids. It’s not about me. My kids played. Their kids played. I thought it was two very good basketball teams.

“But it’s tough,” he added. “It hurts. You know, if I’m going to lose to anyone, I guess lose to him.”

Manhattan came into the game as a heavy underdog against the fourth seed and defending champions Louisville Cardinals. As Manhattan stayed in the game, never trailing by more than eight, and when the scoreboard at one point read 58-55 Manhattan, the idea that Manhattan could pull off an upset of epic proportions became less and less far-fetched.

To many, it came as a surprise that the Jaspers were able to go toe-to-toe with the Cardinals, but for head coach Rick Pitino, it was exactly what he expected.

“I knew this game was going to be this way,” he said. “When we play against ourselves in practice it’s a nightmare. We don’t play well against ourselves, our style, and we knew it was going to be a carbon copy.”

Manhattan’s leading shot blocker Rhamel Brown knew what to expect as well.

“We were very confident going into the game,” he said. “We knew we could match their aggressiveness, their toughness and their strength in the front-court and in the back-court as well.”

From the start of the game, the Jaspers came out and did what they did best all season: defend.

Their tenacious defense kept Louisville’s leading scorer Russ Smith in check, as he went 3-9 from the field, and it held Louisville to a mere 36.4 field goal percentage.

But Louisville negated Smith’s cold shooting night by holding George Beamon, Manhattan’s leading scorer, to only seven points on 3-10 shooting.

Ashton Pankey stepped up in Beamon’s place, scoring a season-high 16 points to compliment Emmy Andujar’s 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Through 37 and a half minutes, the Jaspers were hanging in with the defending national champions.

Every time the Cardinals would go up five or six points, Manhattan would come storming back to cut or take the lead.

But at the end, Louisville’s championship pedigree proved too much to handle.

With the score tied at 60 and less than two minutes left to play, Luke Hancock stole Andujar’s cross-court pass, was fouled and sank both his free throws. Fast forward one minute later, and Hancock had drilled two 3-pointers that buried the Jaspers for good.

“I thought their experience being here showed a little bit down the stretch,” Masiello said.

“This loss definitely hurts,” said Beamon. “At least we lost to a great Louisville team… Those guys brought it, but this definitely hurts. Definitely don’t want to feel this ever again, and we’re going to get our younger guys ready so they won’t have to feel like this again.”