by Pete Janny, Asst. Sports Editor
The Manhattan men’s basketball team (9-18, 7-8 MAAC) looked to defend home court when the Iona Gaels (12-15, 10-6 MAAC) arrived in Riverdale for a Friday night showdown between two of the MAAC’s fiercest rivals. On the wrong side of the last seven meetings between both programs, Manhattan knew they needed to be laser sharp to thwart Iona’s five game winning streak. The Jaspers entered this critical tilt feeling good about themselves after having won five of their last six games, including two in a row. Both schools were represented very well for this lone match-up between the rivals this season. Playing in front of a hostile crowd, the Gaels used a 16-2 second half run to sink the Jaspers 66-52.
Manhattan freshman Samir Stewart opened the scoring with a three pointer fifteen seconds into the game to put his team up 3-0. After Iona answered a minute later with a triple of their own, Manhattan freshman Tykei Greene continued his hot play of late by pouring in five quick points off a layup and a three to put the Jaspers up 8-6 at the 17:33 mark. The next nine minutes featured three lead changes until a Rickey McGill steal and coast to coast finish gave Iona their largest lead of the half at 20-15 with 8:15 remaining in the first half. Manhattan’s response came in the form of a 6-0 run that culminated with an empathic block by freshman Warren Williams that led to a Greene layup on the other end. Greene wreaked havoc again with 12 seconds left when he knocked down a triple to give the Jaspers their biggest lead of the half at 28-23. Unfortunately for Manhattan, the basketball gods helped bank in Asante Gist’s last second three point attempt to cut Manhattan’s lead to two at the half. Head coach Steve Masiello was pleased with his team’s gritty first half of play.
“Our defense was good,” said Masiello on his team’s first half performance. “We held them to 32 percent in the first half.”
The second half was characterized by Manhattan’s frustrating demise. After trading baskets at the outset of the half, the Gaels launched a 7-0 run that was highlighted by an eye-catching fast break slam by E.J. Crawford. A Greene trifecta and a Warren lay in leveled things up at 35 apiece at the 13:34 mark.
The ensuing seven minutes was the determinant of the final outcome.
The Gaels unleashed a scoring rampage in the form of a 16-2 run that severely wounded Manhattan’s chances at victory. Crawford’s layup at the 6:28 mark climbed the Iona lead to 53-37, which proved to be insurmountable.
“I thought we were pressing a little to score,” said Masiello of his team’s cold stretch in the second half.
Crawford paced Iona in scoring with 16, while McGill and Perez both added 13. Manhattan was led by Greene’s career-high 16 points and Ebube Ebube’s double-double performance of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Junior forward Tyler Reynolds was kept out of the lineup after sustaining an undisclosed injury a day earlier.
“We didn’t have Tyler tonight that hurt us a bit,” said Masiello. “He’s day-to-day.”
Masiello admitted that maybe the moment was a little too big at times for his young team.
“Sometimes young guys get one dimensional but that’s part of their growth,” said Masiello. You can’t let a couple missed shots affect you.”
The passion and energy supplied by the Manhattan faithful didn’t fail to catch Masiello’s eye.
“Great turnout by the Sixth Borough,” said Masiello.
With three games remaining in the regular season, Masiello had no intentions of talking about the bigger picture of things.
“We just got to worry about the next game,” said Masiello.