The seventh-seeded Manhattan College Jaspers (13-17; 9-9 MAAC) beat the tenth-seeded Iona Gaels (2-28; 2-16 MAAC) by a score of 55-39 in the opening round of the 2018 MAAC Tournament held at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY on Thursday, Mar. 1.
The Jaspers and Gaels have met two prior times in 2018 with Manhattan coming out on top both times 67-63 and 57-48. However, the Jaspers’ largest win over the Gaels came at an important time as they moved past the first round of the MAAC Tourney for the second time in five years.
“First I just want to thank all our fans for coming to the game today,” head coach Heather Vulin told the media after the game. “It was great to hear them in the stands cheering us on.”
Iona opened the first quarter by taking a 4-2 lead, but Manhattan quickly took over by going on a 8-0 run. With 4:22 left in the quarter, the Jaspers held a 10-4 lead over the Gaels thanks to eight points from senior Kayla Grimme.
Iona was able to keep it close as they trailed 12-10 at the end of the first quarter after forcing seven turnovers and going a perfect 6-for-6 at the free throw line in the first.
Grimme finished the first quarter with 10 points, but was held scoreless in the second. The second quarter also happened to be the Jaspers’ worst of the four as they scored a mere six points. At halftime Iona led Manhattan by 19-18.
“Obviously the first half we struggled to score a little bit, but they just stuck with it,” said Vulin. “The big thing in playoffs is, you obviously want to be playing well, but you just got to play.”
The Jaspers went to work in the second half. After Iona extended their lead to 22-18, Manhattan took the lead at the 6:50 mark in the third and continued on from there. From the 0:28 second mark in the third until the 5:03 mark in the fourth, the Jaspers scored 14 consecutive points to take a 47-29 lead.
The Jaspers led by as much as 21 when senior Amani Tatum scored her 14th point of the game when she connected on a jumper with 3:11 to go in the fourth quarter.
Tatum and Grimme both led the offense. Tatum finished with 14 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals, while Grimme had 16 points, eight rebounds, four blocks, one assist and one steal.
“I think it’s really excited when we can really get a two-man game going and I can get those good passes back out to her,” Grimme told the media after the game.
Tatum and Grimme worked well with each other throughout the game.
“I get the ball and I see Grimme open and I’m throwing it,” Tatum told the media after the game. “I’m lobbing it up there because I know she’s gonna catch it even if I throw the craziest pass, I know she’s gonna catch it and finish it.”
Trust was a big factor between the two seniors. Not only was it big for the seniors, but for the entire team.
“I really felt our team trusted each other, trusted the game plan and in the second half we were able to pull away and executed what we were trying to accomplish today,” said Vulin.
Tatum echoed that sentiment with also referencing the team’s motto of ‘play GREEN.’
“‘Play GREEN’ mentality is just trusting each other,” said Tatum.
The MAAC Tournament can be intimidating for some players considering one loss can end the season of any team, regardless of how they performed in the regular season. For seniors it could be even worse knowing a loss brings their college playing careers to an end. However, for Grimme the idea was motivating.
“Right now in my head I was just remembering, ‘This is it. These are our last games,'” said Grimme. “Not in the sense of pressure, but just in the sense of a motivation-type thing.”
Manhattan continues their chase for the MAAC Championship on Friday Mar. 2 at 3:30PM as they take on second-seeded Marist at the Times Union Center.
Editor’s Note: Featured image courtesy of Go Jaspers.