Senior night; Jack Powers–Manhattan College legend– jersey retirement night; a career-high 27 points for Rich Williams; and a sold out Draddy Gymnasium for the final home game of the season against heated rivals the Iona Gaels.
It seemed like the perfect night for the Jaspers. A night where few could go wrong. And it looked like it would be the case, after Manhattan took an early 15-point lead in the first half.
But it wasn’t the perfect night for the Jaspers, who loss 86-73 to the Iona Gaels.
“I thought they answered everything we threw at them and we threw a lot at them,” Steve Masiello, Manhattan head coach said about the Gaels. “…I kind of knew at halftime a little bit that if we didn’t change that tempo, we couldn’t go bucket-for-bucket, even though we did in the first half. It’s tough to beat Iona at their game, that’s why they’re back-to-back conference champions.”
Williams, making his first start since Dec. 4, made his impact felt immediately. The 6-foot-5 guard started the contest red-hot, scoring 15 of Manhattan’s first 22 points on 6-of-7 from the field.
“I just tried to come out and be aggressive,” Williams said of his first half performance. “Be the player that I am and my teammates did a great job of finding me, so give them all the credit.”
The Jaspers led 22-9, behind Williams’ hot start, and the team’s tenacity on defense, which forced seven Iona turnovers in the game’s first seven minutes.
However, Iona took care of the ball, and slowly cut into Manhattan’s lead. The Jaspers continued to be led by Williams, who registered 24-first half points, but Iona’s offense woke up and returned to doing what it has been accustomed to all season—putting up the second highest scoring offense in the MAAC at 79.3 points per game.
The Gaels, who trailed by as many as 15, trimmed the deficit to five, and trailed 48-43 at halftime.
The second half turned into something Iona has been used to seeing for the last two seasons: the A.J. English show.
Manhattan held English to a season-low four points in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 29, but English, who had come into the contest red-hot—scoring 30 or more points in three of his last four games—continued his hot-streak and scored 23 points.
“We won so it doesn’t really matter how many points I had,” English said about his first game against Manhattan and whether it impacted his game tonight. “It doesn’t matter how many points I had. I could’ve had zero points. I could’ve had zero points tonight and I’m fine with that.”
The Gaels quickly turned their deficit around in the second half, and behind English’s lights out shooting, built a 70-60 lead with 8:53 remaining.
The Jaspers cut the deficit to as little as seven, but the Gaels, powered by English on offense and driven by an intense defensive performance, which held the Jaspers to 25-second half points on 33 percent shooting from the field, dominated the second half.
With the score 72-65 in favor of Iona, English ignited an 11-0 run which was capped off by Jordan Washington’s 3-point play as the shot-clock expired, which sealed the game at 83-65 with 2:31 left in the contest. The Gaels would go on to win 86-73.
“I haven’t seen A.J. play this way in a long time,” Masiello said about English’s performance. “He’s mad, and A.J. English mad isn’t good for anyone.”
The Jaspers received most of their contributions on offense from three players. Behind Williams’ career-night, Zane Waterman registered a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Shane Richards, playing in his final home game of his Manhattan career, scored 17.
With the loss, Manhattan remains in sixth place in the MAAC standings. The Jaspers clinch the six-seed with a win, but can also clinch with a loss, and a loss by seven-seed Canisius to Iona on Sunday.
“We’re going to treat that as a road game,” Masiello said about his approach to a first round game against Marist, which Manhattan is slated to face as the sixth-seed. “We’re going to go play Marist in a one-game, single-game playoff on Thursday. … Then we’re going to play a MAAC Tournament. … Let’s treat it as a one-game road trip to play Marist in a neutral site and then we have to go win three in a row.”