By, Maddie Mulkigian, Senior Writer
The added anxiety surrounding the rivalry match-up between the Manhattan Jaspers and the Iona Gaels reached its climax on Friday, Feb. 20, as 2,345 fans entered Draddy Gymnasium. This game was vital to the Jaspers’ standing in the MAAC Conference and the ultimate test of whether or not the Jaspers could match up against Rick Pitino’s talented squad. On top of that was the pressure of Manhattan’s first encounter with former head coach, Steve Masiello, on another bench in his old gym.
Would there be hugs? Would a fight break out? Would Manhattan be able to pull off a win? The answer to each of these questions was no (thank you to the NYPD for posting themselves in each corner of Draddy), but that did not take away from the energy that overflowed the entire gym.
“The energy of the gym on Friday night was electric,” pep band member Joseph Matos said. “I remember I was screaming at the top of my lungs ‘Defense!’ and getting the crowd going. It was a really positive vibe.”
According to the New York Times, the closest Masiello got to his former players was providing fist bumps to the routine line of handshakes that is performed after every game. Masiello did not expend any more energy seeing or embracing his former players than what was required of him.
Masiello’s only response to any questions about the feelings evoked by returning to Draddy was that “It’s a business trip.” While his new team came out on top, Jasper fans were not going to let Masiello feel comfortable on his new bench.
“The rivalry [with Iona] was great because we were right next to their crowd,” Matos said. “They had their own little cheerleader squad and seeing us throw banter and yell chants at them back and forth as they’re posting up signs… it was pretty fun.”
Not only was Masiello’s return to Manhattan the awaited arrival of the 2022-2023 basketball season, but the thought of beating him on his old turf had Jasper Nation roaring. Draddy Gymnasium practically erupted when Samir Stewart sent the game to overtime and the energy spread from the court to the bleachers as everyone was on their feet cheering for the wild comeback that the Jaspers were only five minutes from pulling off.
Even after what would have been an emotional win for all Jaspers, Interim Head Coach RaShawn Stores remained focused on the game itself rather than who was sitting on the opposing bench. In a post-game conference, Stores assured reporters that Masiello’s return was not his focus of the game when he said: “we’re not going to worry about that.”
With the conference tournament right around the corner, Jasper fans will have to store some more of the intense energy that was present on Jan. 20 in case Manhattan finds themselves facing off against Iona and their former coach again, but this time with their entire season on the line.
Maybe one day Masiello will comment on his first experience as an enemy in Manhattan’s home. But for now, all we can ask him is this: “Steve Masiello… WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
Manhattan College’s athletic department declined to comment for this article.