By, Pete Janny, Senior Writer
It’s been nearly two years since Fordham and Manhattan last met. Since then, a lot has changed for both Bronx Division I programs who have seen a plethora of players transfer in since their last meeting.
But on this night it was the Jaspers who extended their winning streak against Fordham coming away with a thrilling 66-60 win over their crosstown rivals.
It took until the final minute for Manhattan to fully over- come their inauspicious start to the game. The Jaspers trailed the whole way until Manhattan guard Samir Stewart hit the go-ahead three point shot with 34 seconds left to seal the win and send the Manhattan faithful at Draddy Gym into a state of ecstasy.
Manhattan’s offense sputtered right from the opening tip in this game. Senior guard Jose Perez couldn’t buy a shot, going two-of-nine in the first half. But that didn’t stop the Jaspers from giving Perez his shots, and it was apparent he was affecting the game in other ways, like setting up Josh Roberts on an alley oop that got the crowd on their feet.
But it was in the second half where Perez truly introduced himself to his new school. The Marquette transfer delivered an impressive three-point play with over five minutes left by dribbling the length of the court and finishing through contact despite being fouled. That sequence cut the Fordham lead to two and helped lead the Jaspers on a 10-two run to close out the game. Additionally, Perez swatted away a Fordham layup on the Rams last possession and immediately turned around to embrace the Manhattan student section known as the “Sixth Borough.”
“My teammates trust me on and off the court,” Perez said after the game. “We just trust each other.”
Midway through the first half Elijah Buchanan emerged as a playmaker for the Jaspers. His success came from attacking the hoop at will and finding a groove from the midrange. The senior guard was instrumental in helping Manhattan overcome a 10-point deficit midway through the second half. Buchanan completed his packed highlight reel with a smooth midrange jumper that cut the Fordham lead to 51-49 with seven minutes left. Buchanan’s lengthy 6’5 frame screams of potential and this could be the year the Bronx native puts it all together.
“Every time this game [Battle of the Bronx] comes up I don’t want to let my team down,” said Buchanan, who was named Battle of the Bronx Player of the Game after also winning the award in 2019 at Rose Hill.
Coming into the game, the last two matchups between both teams were tightly contested. Manhattan had their hearts broken in 2018 when Nick Honor hit a walk-off buzzer beater on a running floater in the lane. The Jaspers would get their retribution a year later when Tyler Reynolds hit a go-ahead three in overtime with a couple seconds left to seal the 54-53 overtime win. But since then, moments like that have seemed to elude the Jaspers who have finished with records of 13-18 and 7-13 in the two seasons since.
But when Stewart’s three went in from the right corner, it was the loudest Draddy Gym has been since the days of winning back to back MAAC Championships in 2014 and 2015. Something felt different for the first time in a long time as the Jaspers extended their lead to 59-54 in the all-time series between the schools. It was also the first meeting with new Fordham Head Coach Kyle Neptune in the mix.
“They got the best of us in the first half but at halftime we went back to the drawing board and came back,” Stewart said.
Masiello’s face lit up when talking about the potential of this year’s Manhattan team after suffering through six straight losing seasons. The beleaguered coach has been vocal over the last year about his newfound appreciation for life and basketball after coaching through a pandemic season. When speaking to reporters after the game, Masiello struck a similar selfless tone.
“I thought our kids showed great grit,” Masiello said after the game.”We played for the front of our jersey and not what was on the back of it.”
This may be the season Masiello has waited for since hoisting up the trophy in Albany back in March of 2015. And for a team with 10 seniors, Masiello and his players will take on this redemption campaign together.