Manhattan’s Quest For a Three-Peat Ends Short at the Hands of Siena

ALBANY, N.Y.– A season which started with promise and with a shot at history for Manhattan, which was looking to become just the third team in MAAC history to win three consecutive championships, ended short of the goal.

But it ended in typical Manhattan fashion, after much grit, fight, and chippy play. Despite being crushed on the boards 46-21 and being outshot from the freethrow line 35-14, the Jaspers managed to cut what was a 16-point deficit to three points late in the second half. However, the Jaspers failed to overcome the hole, falling 89-76 to the SIena Saints, and in the process, getting  eliminated in the MAAC quarterfinals.

The loss marks the end of Manhattan’s three-year run, which resulted in consecutive MAAC championships. For Shane Richards and RaShawn Stores, who were a part of the championship loss to Iona in 2013, and the wins over Iona in 2014 and 2015, the loss to Siena ends their collegiate careers.

“Five years ago when we came here, they came here with no vision,” Steve Masiello, Manhattan head coach said of Richards and Stores. “They came and we hadn’t accomplished anything. … I think if you evaluate it five years later, 9-2 with these guys in MAAC Tournaments, two MAAC Tournament championships, three seasons of postseason play, obviously you want to get a third. … Obviously we wanted to win tonight. Obviously we wanted to win this tournament, but it’s tough to do it every year.”

Manhattan almost pulled off the upset in front of a partial crowd, which showed up to the Times Union Center, home of Siena, and showed full support.

After a first half that turned into a foul-o-thon– 17 personal fouls for Manhattan– and limited Richards and Rich Williams  to just seven and eight minutes respectively, Manhattan found itself in a 12-point deficit at halftime, down 46-34.

Early in the second half, Manhattan struggled to cut Siena’s lead, remaining within 8-16 points down for more than 10 minutes. Any momentum gained by Manhattan was quelled by Siena, who got timely baskets and key offensive rebounds, which led to second chance points from Brett Bisping, Lavon Long and Javion Ogunyemi.

But with the Saints up 73-62 with less than eight minutes to play, the Jaspers seemed like they had turned the corner and were going to be able to sustain their surge. Thomas Capuano ignited an 8-0 run with a 3-pointer, and Manhattan cut Siena’s lead to three.

“That’s part of our culture,” Stores said about Manhattan’s run to cut the deficit to three. “That’s why we train everyday in the summer, every day in the offseason. … We’re used to these times. We know what it feels like to be down.”

But as was the case the whole game, Ogunyemi was there when Siena needed him. The MAAC Defensive Player of the Year showcased his offensive skill in a stretch of two minutes, converting on a layup inside and stepping out to bank in a miraculous 3-point heave off the glass as the shot clock expired, just his seventh of the season. Ogunyemi sparked a 7-0 run for Siena, which built its lead to 10 with two minutes to play.

In the end, it was an insurmountable lead, and the Jaspers were knocked off 89-76.

“To beat them when they cut it to three, I knew that was going to be the type of game it was going to be,” Jimmy Patsos, Siena head coach said. “Steve [Masiello] with that team, he’s like one guy short of having another championship run. We got lucky.”

Williams led the Jaspers with 26 points and Tyler Wilson scored 14 with four assists and four steals. The duo will be Manhattan’s senior class next season.

They have been a part of the good– the last two years, which resulted in championships– and the bad– this year– and will be expected to take on an added leadership role next year.

“After the loss tonight, I went in there and told them ‘keep their heads up’,” Stores said was his message to Williams and Wilson. “There’s no reason to be down. Shane [Richards] and I won. We won. It’s your time now.”

Manhattan ends its season 13-18, but will have much to look forward to next year, as a veteran group returns, along with the additions of Ball State transfer Zavier Turner, and the recruitment of Cardozo guard Aaron Walker.