In his four seasons as head coach of the Manhattan College Jaspers, Steve Masiello had never been swept by the Iona Gaels in a single season.
The Gaels defeated the Jaspers 79-75 to sweep the season series against the Jaspers for the first time since the 2010-2011 campaign.
“Give [Iona] credit,” Masiello said. “I have so much respect for Iona and the job [Time Cluess] does and what they’re about. I just thought that it was a great game, great environment and really fun to be a part of it. I think this rivalry is getting better every time the game happens.”
The possibility of another matchup between the two was the theme after the game, with players and coaches commenting on how they would feel about meeting again.
For Manhattan and where it currently sits in the standings—third place—another contest with Iona would come at the MAAC Championship game.
The two teams met in last year’s championship game, something Ashton Pankey thinks could serve as leverage for the Jaspers.
“I would love to play them again,” Pankey said. “I mean obviously, I think everybody would love to see that matchup again. We played them last year in the championship and we came out with a win, which is good for us, but if we end up seeing them again, I feel like we’ll be ready. So I’m looking forward to that.”
But although Pankey is all for another matchup between the Jaspers and Gaels, his teammate Emmy Andujar disagrees.
“No,” Andujar blatantly said in response to whether he would like to face Iona again. “It’s good for the fans, but to be honest, no. They’re a great team, but I feel like they don’t want to see us also. It goes both ways.”
For Andujar, Iona would not want to see Manhattan again not just out of respect, but because it is hard to beat a team three times in a season.
It is an idea many coaches have subscribed to, and it came to fruition last season when Manhattan was swept by Quinnipiac in the regular season, but defeated the Bobcats in the MAAC Semifinals.
Iona’s head coach, Tim Cluess, admitted that a third meeting between the two teams would be dangerous for the Gaels.
“I think what makes it harder is whenever you lose you make adjustments,” Cluess said. “When you win you’re kind of a little bit skittish about making an adjustment because you won. You don’t want to kind of take something away that might have already worked.”
As for the latest game between the two teams, it will not go down as one of the more memorable battles between the two, but it still did not disappoint.
Manhattan only led once in the entire game, at 5-4 and only held that lead for less than two minutes, but found itself right in the thick of things for 40 minutes.
The Jaspers trailed 41-35 at halftime, in a first half that was played evenly. Both teams struggled from the field—Manhattan shot 40 percent, Iona shot 44 percent—and both teams turned the ball over frequently—Manhattan six, Iona nine.
The second half began dangerously for Manhattan, which went scoreless for the first five minutes of the half and saw Iona extend its lead to 48-35.
The Jaspers quickly snapped out of their funk and cut the lead to six with a 7-0 run. However, as was the case throughout most of the game, every time Manhattan made a run, Iona would match it with one of its own.
For most of the second half, Manhattan was stuck in a 6-10-point hole.
Down, 71-61, Pankey scored four consecutive points to cut the lead to 71-65 with 1:32 remaining. However, Isaiah Williams, who made his long awaited return after being sidelined for almost a month and a half, provided the dagger with a layup on the next possession to stretch the lead back up to eight.
The game became a free throw fest after that, with Iona knocking down six of its eight free throws to reach 79 points. The Jaspers would tack on 10 more themselves, but it was not enough as they were defeated 79-75.
Manhattan got 51 points from its big three in Andujar, Pankey and Shane Richards. Andujar led the way with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds, to go along with five assists and three steals.
Pankey scored a team-high 20 points, including 16 of the team’s last 23 points, highlighted by a stretch of 15 consecutive points in just four minutes.
Richards, who played just 10 minutes on Monday against Marist because of a nagging knee injury, responded well with 14 points. With his three 3-pointers, Richards tied last season’s record tying 3-point mark of 77 in a single season, which himself and Jeff Xavier hold.
With just one game remaining in the regular season and the Jaspers poised to finish as the third seed with a victory over Quinnipiac on Sunday, the possibility of meeting Iona in the championship game looms large.
But do not tell that to Masiello. He prefers to just win in the easiest way possible, and you cannot blame him.
“I’m not a guy that believes in seeing good teams three times,” Masiello said. “I’ll be much happier not playing Iona again and seeing them go out early. I’m not into the sizzle factor. I’m into trying to win games.”