It was the second half of the NCAA Tournament and the Jaspers were trailing by three points to the defending NCAA champions, the Louisville Cardinals.
With Rhamel Brown getting a breather, Ashton Pankey was sole offensive player in the paint, guarded by Montrezl Harrell, a 2014-2015 Associated Press Preseason All-American.
Pankey fought with all 236 pounds of Harrell in the paint, and wrestled his way to gain a good position, allowing Tyler Wilson to throw an entry pass for an easy two point layup to bring the Jaspers within one.
In the biggest game of his young career, Pankey at times looked like the best player on the court. He finished with a season-high 16 points to go along with just five rebounds. Although the Jaspers lost, Pankey flashed moments of brilliance and showed signs of what was to come.
Last season was Pankey’s first time on the court since the 2012-2013 season when he played for Maryland. Pankey was forced to sit out for a season after he transferred to Manhattan due to NCAA transfer regulations, and it may have slowed him down a bit last season.
He started his first five games averaging just 5.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while also fouling out two out of those five games. He ended the season averaging 7.1 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game.
While the stats may have not popped off of the stat sheet, they never had to. With guys like George Beamon, Mike Alvarado, Shane Richards and Emmy Andujar, Pankey never had to carry the offensive load.
This season, however, is different.
Beamon and Alvarado are gone, and more importantly, big man Rhamel Brown is also gone. The senior class was responsible for 50 percent of the team’s scoring last season, and Brown’s departure frees up space in the paint.
With the addition of forward Jermaine Lawrence, a 6-foot-10-inch big man who can spread the floor with his ability to shoot from the outside, it leaves the paint open for Pankey.
In the scrimmage against Division II opponent LIU Post, Pankey continued from where he left off last season, scoring 17 points and snagging nine rebounds in just 23 minutes.
“I want to dominate,” Pankey said after the win against LIU Post. “I want to take over the league, and I want to come in to every game as the best player on the court. That’s my mindset every game. As long as I continue to do that, good things will happen.”
Pankey was picked to the All-MAAC Third Team in the preseason poll by the MAAC head coaches, and he isn’t happy about it.
Head coach Steve Masiello talked about the added trust he has in Pankey this season, something he didn’t have last season.
With just under eight minutes remaining in the scrimmage against LIU Post, Pankey had four fouls, but Masiello decided to let him play.
“He told me ‘coach, I’m good, I got it,’” Masiello said. “A year ago, I would have never done that. But I think that says so much about him and where he’s gone. We have that relationship now where the trust is there, where it might not have been there a year ago. So, I rely on him. If he tells me he’s got him, I trust him. He’s earned that right.”
Pankey recorded at least four fouls in 52 percent of games last season, so he spent a good amount of time on the bench because of foul trouble, limiting his on-court production.
With Masiello’s added trust in Pankey, it is just another reason he is due for a breakout season.
“We lost a lot of pieces, and it’s my time to step up,” Pankey said.