DAYTON, OHIO– After Selection Sunday, the buzz was all about a potential match up between the Manhattan Jaspers and the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats.
To many, the Jaspers were disrespected by being given a 16-seed and a play-in game, but would take care of business and prove the selection committee wrong by beating the Hampton Pirates.
The dream scenario is no more, as the Jaspers failed to handle their business and fell to the Pirates in 74-64, wire-to-wire defeat.
But while the talk was all about a Manhattan-Kentucky contest, leading up to the game, head coach Steve Masiello stressed the idea that the Jaspers were obsessed with the Pirates and only had their sights set on them.
It looked like they did not worry enough.
“It just wasn’t our brand,” Masiello said about his team’s performance. “It just wasn’t us. But you have to give Hampton credit for that.”
“We just didn’t bring our culture,” RaShawn Stores said. “Like coach said today, we didn’t play our style. We just came out a little flat.”
From the onset of the game, it was apparent that it was Hampton, not Manhattan that looked poised to face the Wildcats.
The Pirates jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead and forced the Jaspers to regroup.
Thanks to two fouls on Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey, the Pirates maintained a lead throughout the entire second half.
But to Manhattan’s credit, the Jaspers managed to keep the game within reach even without its two best players.
Led by the unexpected contributions from the freshmen in Calvin Crawford and Zane Waterman and the sophomore Carlton Allen, who combined for 17 points and eight rebounds in the first half, Manhattan found itself down by just seven at halftime.
To be down by seven, having played most of the first half without their leading scorers and rebounders in Andujar and Pankey, the Jaspers could consider themselves fortunate.
They knew they had a run in them and they knew they would get back into the game in the second half, and that is exactly what happened.
The Jaspers cut the Hampton lead to three on several occasions, as early as the 16:51 mark in the second half. Then they got to within one at the 13:42 mark and the closest they would get was at 62-58 with 4:38 remaining.
But it just was not the Jaspers’ night.
Every time they cut it to four, three and even one at a point, Hampton would find a way to get a timely basket, a clutch stop or cause a turnover.
This sequence was none more apparent than with the score at 62-58 and Manhattan with possession, Pankey was called for a travel. On Manhattan’s next possession, Stores missed a wide-open 3-pointer.
Then, for three possessions in a row, and with the score now 63-58, Pankey and Andujar combined for three turnovers with the last of the trio capitalized with a 3-point play by Emmanuel Okoroba that stretched Hampton’s lead to 65-58 with just 2:04 left on the clock.
“We fought all night,” Masiello said. “It’s just, we’d get a turnover and then we’d have a three-on-one and Emmy turns it right back over and they get a 3-point play. We’d get a turnover and then we’d hand it right back to them. I think we might have pressed a little too much. Not defensively, but ourselves. I think we might have wanted it a little too much instead of just relaxing.”
The game became a free throw contest from that point on and Hampton sealed the deal with a 74-64 win.
“Everybody said that Manhattan was the better team and that’s fine,” Hampton coach Edward Joyner said. “But we had to be better tonight and we were the better team for 40 minutes tonight.”
For Stores, Andujar and Donovan Kates, the defeat means the end of their Manhattan College careers.
Stores, as did the rest of Manhattan, struggled on offense, going just 2-8 from the field for seven points.
Even Shane Richards, Manhattan’s leading scorer on the night with 17 points, had a rough shooting performance, going 6-16 from the field and 4-14 from 3-point range.
Pankey, who was coming off a MAAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player award, was also kept in check with just nine points on 3-11 shooting.
Andujar had perhaps his worst game of the season going just 5-12 from the field. He did have 11 points and eight rebounds, but had six turnovers, including two costly ones towards the end of the game where the Jaspers had a chance to cut into Hampton’s five-point lead.
“It was frustrating,” Andujar said about picking up two fouls in the first half and being forced to sit out for most of the half. “I couldn’t be out there for my team… Obviously I didn’t play my best game today so we came up short.”
The Jaspers finish their season at 19-14 and for the second time in their history, made the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons.
The team will lose their senior trio in Andujar, Kates and Stores, but in their four years at Manhattan, they have done enough to make Manhattan relevant again.
“They totally changed our culture and put Manhattan back on the map where it belongs as one of the better mid-major programs,” Masiello said. “That’s a credit to these players and these seniors and what they’ve done. So, I’m extremely proud of that. It was a terrific year for us. We just came up a little short in Dayton and then we have to go back and build on it.”