Jon Reyes & Daniel Ynfante
Sports Editor & Asst. Sports Editor
BRONX, N.Y. — Manhattan College received some good news prior to the 107th Battle of the Bronx against Fordham University. It added two more members to its six-man band, which pulled off a 16-point comeback victory against George Mason on Nov. 25 that seemed impossible.
Samson Akilo and Carlton Allen returned to action, giving Manhattan eight players at its disposal. It was a number that to most teams is insufficient, but to Manhattan gave them a plethora of options in comparison to its situation last Wednesday.
“The game is changed, in the sense that as coaches we got to watch what we do with injuries,” Steve Masiello, Manhattan head basketball coach, said. “How much we push, look into things. … Some seem like they’re going to be some time and others seem more of the nagging type. We haven’t been able to practice in probably, I’d say, 12 days. We only have five or six bodies. We’re bringing in Rhamel Brown to practice. It’s what it is. I’m trying, hoping we can get back. I’m trusting the training staff to do what we need to do to get guys back, but I just go on with what I’m told.”
But the good news turned into bad news, as Manhattan was defeated, 87-64, by Fordham.
It was a frantic pace to start the game, which resulted in three consecutive turnovers committed by Manhattan on its first three possessions. It reciprocated the pressure and forced Fordham to commit six turnovers in the first six minutes of the game.
The up-and-down tempo allowed Rich Williams to display his full offensive repertoire: converting layups in transition, pulling up for 15-foot jump shots and knocking down a pair of floaters as well. Manhattan held its biggest lead of the half at 18-15, with Williams responsible for 12 of its 18 points.
Much like in the game against George Mason, Manhattan remained in the contest thanks to its defensive pressure, forcing Fordham to turn the ball over 14 times in the first half.
When Manhattan was up, 29-27, Fordham started to separate itself by going a 15-4 run that gave it a, 42-33, lead headed into half-time.
In the second-half, Manhattan would need to put together another comeback like it did against George Mason to win. Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes made sure that wouldn’t happen by consistently scoring at the top of the arc and around the rim — both were in the twenties with 26 and 20, respectively.
Aside from the offense, it’s always interesting to see how opponents counter or match the Masiello heart-filled, hard-nosed style on defense that feasts off mistakes. Fordham did so by not feeding into it, and instead keeping its passes crisp; straight to the letters; and avoiding hail mary ones, including a medley of play calls.
Manhattan pressed and maintained its defensive pressure like it did in the first-half, but just couldn’t get their hands on the ball in the second. The 14 first-half turnovers it forced turned into just five in the second.
Manhattan further damaged its ability to score as the half dragged on when Zane Waterman was ejected from the game on a flagrant-two, after he pulled Thomas down to the floor from his shoulders as he drove to the hoop. And later in the half, Shane Richards fouled out to cap-off yet another off night.
Neither helped a team that only dressed eight players. Ak Ojo, Calvin Crawford, Samson Usilo and RaShawn Stores were all on the bench in Manhattan polos and jeans.
“We did feel like Shane was very important to them,” Jeff Neubauer, Fordham’s head coach, said. “He is a terrific player. … He is really hard to guard and he was the focus of our defense. We did put different people on him and he certainly was the key for us in defending Manhattan.”
The final blow for Manhattan came after finding itself down, 84-61, with three minutes remaining after a 3-pointer from Antwoine Anderson. Leading the way for Fordham was Thomas who scored a team-high 26 points to go along with five rebounds and three steals — he was named MVP after the game.
“Our team did a lot of tough things here today,” Neubauer said about his team’s effort. “The first half we turned it over too many times. We had 14 turnovers and that’s not who we are. In the second half we played more like who we’ve been and who we’re going to be, meaning we only had five turnovers.”
“It’s fun being out there,” Thomas said during the team press conference. “The crowd gets into it and I’m glad we got what we wanted.
For Manhattan, Williams recorded his second consecutive 20-point game, finishing the night with 24 points and five rebounds. He was missing his partner in crime in Richards, who struggled for a second game in a row, finishing with nine points on just 2-14 shooting. Picking up the slack for Richards was Tyler Wilson, who scored a season-high 13 points, to go along with eight assists and three steals.
“[Tonight] only makes us better,” Masiello said. “I’ve always said this, ‘You’re not going to kill us.’ … This is great for us. In an ironic way, you never want to lose, but it’s good for us because now we can get a little mad, ‘Oh yeah, I remember this taste. Let’s do something about it now.’ You want to be able to stay there without losing, but you got to find the positive in everything. You got to try to make wine out of water.”
More photos from the game below…