by PETE JANNY, Sports & Managing Editor
Coming off a pair of road losses, Manhattan (4-3) looked to right the ship at Fordham (5-4) this past Saturday for the 112th installment of the ‘Battle of the Bronx’.
After the way things ended last year between these two teams, there was great suspense as to how Manhattan would respond this year. It had only been a little over a year since Fordham managed to escape Draddy Gymnasium with a 57-56 triumph thanks to a buzzer-beater layup from ex-Ram Nick Honor. Flash forward a year later, and you find two teams looking to build off solid starts to the 2019-2020 season.
Despite a mediocre first half of play from the Jaspers, the visitors found a way to will themselves to a massive 52-51 overtime win at Rose Hill Gymnasium. Manhattan was down by as much as 11 with seven minutes left in regulation before the team mounted an inspiring comeback that culminated with a game-winning three from senior Tyler Reynolds with four seconds left in overtime. The ending stages of regulation, including the overtime action, featured some of Manhattan’s best basketball on the young season.
From Manhattan’s perspective, the team did not start out the way they had hoped. After senior Pauly Paulicap scored the game’s opening basket 28 seconds in, the Jaspers proceeded to miss their next six shots, falling into a 7-2 hole with six minutes gone.
Luckily for Manhattan, it took the Fordham offense quite a bit of time to get acclimated to the game as well. After making their first shot, the Rams misfired on seven of their next nine shots, yet still maintained a lead.
In a half that saw Manhattan shoot 20 percent from the field, the inspiring play of talented sophomore Elijah Buchanan was one of the few bright spots. After falling behind 14-7, Buchanan reinvigorated his team with five quick points, converting a three-pointer and mid-range shot to bring his team to within two at 14-12 with 8:45 left in the first half.
“He works so hard,” head coach Steve Masiello said about Buchanan, who scored a career-high 15 points. “He’s one of the best scorers in the history of the state coming out of high school and sometimes I think we forget he’s only a sophomore.”
Manhattan’s offensive execution would regress from there with two free throws from junior Nehemiah Mack at 4:28 representing the team’s final points of the half.
Despite shooting a lackluster 26 percent from the field, Fordham entered the halftime break with a 22-14 lead anyways. The home team’s most exciting highlight of the half came in the closing seconds when senior Antwon Portley got his defender in the air with a shot fake before drilling a long two-pointer at the buzzer. Seven of Portley’s 15 points on the afternoon came in the first half with the senior guard remaining heavily involved in the second half as well.
Out of the break, Manhattan rattled off four straight points thanks to a pair of free throws from Paulicap and a nifty layup from Buchanan that brought the deficit to 22-18. However, the momentum would abruptly shift back to Fordham with the Rams launching a 9-3 run over the next five minutes that threatened to create some serious separation between both teams. The Jaspers would simply not give up though. The team managed to compensate for their inconsistent offensive play with a spirit of resiliency as guys like Buchanan and Paulicap continued to make big plays. The team’s persistent patience and composure is what allowed head coach Steve Masiello’s troops to respond with an 8-0 that reduced the deficit back down to three at 39-36 with 4:52 left. The unsung hero during this offensive surge was the eventual hero, Tyler Reynolds. After misfiring on his first seven three-point attempts, Reynolds regained his stroke, nailing two threes to account for six of the team’s eight unanswered points during this run.
Then, down 43-36 with 3:21 left, Manhattan needed one last big push to the finish if they wanted a chance at victory.
After a made a free throw by Buchanan, Manhattan unleashed one of their best shooters, sophomore point guard Samir Stewart. After flying under the radar for most of the game, Stewart suddenly got hot and nailed back-to-back three pointers to tie the score at 43 with a minute left. In the final minute, Portley missed a three-point attempt for Fordham that set up one last possession for Manhattan to go for the win. Masiello turned back to Stewart, but his two three-point attempts in the final seconds of play were off the mark, extending the game into overtime.
In the overtime period, Manhattan had trouble stopping the Rams as the team fell into a quick hole in which they trailed by four as late as 42 seconds left. However, Manhattan once again showed undying belief. After sophomore Christian Hinckson scored an easy layup off a blocked Manhattan three-point attempt to shrink Fordham’s lead to 53-51, Manhattan had one last chance to steal this game. Down by two with 15 seconds left, Manhattan intentionally fouled Portley, who would proceed to miss both his free throws to leave the door open for the Jaspers. Manhattan would go on to capitalize on Portley’s big misses with Reynolds hitting the go-ahead three-pointer from the left corner with four seconds left to clinch the win.
Manhattan finished the game with a better shooting percentage, 33 percent, compared to Fordham’s 32 percent clip. The Jaspers also edged the Rams in rebounding by a 46-44 count.
Senior Erten Gazi led Fordham in scoring with 16 points, while Portley chipped in 15 for the home team. Outside of these two, no other Fordham player scored in double figures.
Elijah Buchanan was named most valuable player of the game after scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Paulicap registered his seventh career double-double with a line of 10 points and 11 rebounds. Stewart rounded out the list of double-digit scorers for Manhattan, contributing 12 points with three threes to his name. After the game, Buchanan spoke about how confidence has been a key for his success this season.
“My high school coach texted me before the game and told me to just go back to being the Mount St. Michael’s Eli,” Buchanan said. “I think I’ve made a very big jump because my confidence is better this year.”
Having lost four straight to Fordham entering this matchup, Paulicap hinted at the heightened meaning of a rivalry game like this one. In addition, Paulicap was motivated not to suffer another loss to the Rams in his career.
“I’ve already experienced two losses against Fordham so I just came in trying to do the blue collar things such as rebound and box out,” Paulicap said. “Obviously we still have a lot of work to do, but this is a big win for us.”
Masiello cited the resilience of his team for making this win possible after falling behind early. Early deficits have started to become a theme for Manhattan this season and Masiello would like to see that change, especially with the MAAC season right around the corner.
“Really proud of our guys. I thought they were resilient and battled,” Masiello said. “But we are very sluggish and lethargic to start games so we have to address that.”
Manhattan will return to action on Saturday, December 14th when they host Western Michigan (5-5) at 7 PM.