BY CHRIS CIRILLO & DANIEL YNFANTE
SENIOR WRITER & ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
The Manhattan Jaspers were flying high. Winners of six of their last seven, including four in a row.
The third place Jaspers faced off against the team it was tied with in the standings: the Rider Broncs.
However, Manhattan’s hot streak was ended by the Broncs who defeated the Jaspers 82-79 in a thrilling overtime game. The Jaspers (5-3 MAAC, 8-9) dropped to fifth in the MAAC while the Broncs (6-2 MAAC, 12-7) are tied with the Iona Gaels for first.
“Every game is going to be a hard fought game,” Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said. “You’re going to win some games you should lose and lose some games you should win. I don’t get caught up in the league play as much up in I get caught up in, ‘Are we playing good basketball?’ Tonight we didn’t play good basketball and you have to give Rider credit for that.”
Manhattan came out firing on all cylinders getting out to a quick 7-0 lead and forcing Rider to turn the ball over on its first three possessions.
The Jaspers continued to maintain their pressure on defense and held their largest lead of the half at 17-8 off a thunderous tomahawk dunk from Donovan Kates.
Rider’s head coach Kevin Baggett told his team that it would take poise to beat the press but it would still be tough to prepare for it.
“We can practice against it all we want,” he said, “because we don’t have the guys to simulate it nor do we know exactly all the ins-and-outs to there press and the different nuances to it, but we tried to work on as much as we could and try to warn our guys: this is what they do.”
The Broncs would slowly cut into the deficit. Down 27-20, they used a 10-0 run to take a three-point lead over Manhattan.
With 10 seconds remaining in the first-half, a three-pointer from Jimmie Taylor gave Rider its largest lead of the half at 37-33. But Manhattan’s Shane Richards responded on the other end with a three of his own, and Manhattan went into the locker room down 37-36.
The second half got underway in style for the Jaspers with an alley-oop dunk from Ashton Pankey off an assist by RaShawn Stores.
But the excitement of regaining the lead and the highlight play wouldn’t last long as Emmy Andujar went down with an apparent knee injury early in the second-half and went limping into the locker room.
Without its best player on the court the Jaspers held their own, and had a 49-45 lead when amid loud cheers and claps Andujar checked back into the game.
He quickly proved he had no lingering effects from his injury making a layup to give Manhattan a 51-49 lead and then converting on an acrobatic finish at the rim for a three-point play.
But the Broncs wouldn’t go away, and for a large part of the second-half were exchanging baskets with the Jaspers.
Rider eventually came back to take the lead and had the score in its favor, 74-72, with less than a minute to play.
Pankey tied the game for Manhattan with a three-point play, but missed the free-throw that would give the Jaspers the lead.
On the ensuing possession, Zedric Sadler missed a three-pointer for Rider, which Manhattan rebounded. Masiello, as he had done in the previous game against the Saint Peter’s, opted not to call a timeout and instead let his team play out the final possession.
The result was a missed layup by Andujar and the game headed into overtime tied at 74.
The Broncs started the scoring in overtime thanks to a layup by Matt Lopez to which Richards responded with a three-pointer that gave Manhattan a 77-76 lead, the only one the Jaspers saw in overtime as it was all Rider from that point on.
Manhattan had a chance to win the game when Jimmie Taylor missed the second free-throw for the Broncs and Andujar rebounded the ball with the Jaspers down 80-79.
Once again Masiello did not call timeout and let the team play. This time, Andujar turned the ball over on a bad pass that forced the Jaspers to intentionally foul Teddy Okereafor.
“We were trying to go what we call ‘twirl action’ where we come down, get Emmy off a wide down screen and into a quick pick-and-roll,” Masiello said. “We didn’t get into it. We got into a pick-and-roll and Emmy [Andujar] rejected the pick-and-roll into the close side of the floor. I would have liked to see him get into the middle. Give Rider credit. They got a stop and made a good play.”
“It was a dumb play from me,” Andujar said. “I should have used the ball screen. I rejected it and it didn’t work out how we wanted it. It was a dumb decision by me.”
Okereafor made both free-throws to stretch the lead to three, but with only less than two seconds remaining the Jaspers wound up with a half-court heave from Stores that hit the left side of the glass.
Andujar and Richards led the way for Manhattan with 21 points a piece. Pankey was right behind them with 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
The loss marks the first defeat for the Jaspers at home this season.
“I thought our guys did a good job just competing and understanding that if we could take care of the ball against the press, we could give ourselves a chance to win,” Baggett said.