In order to be looked at as the favorite to reach the NCAA tournament you have to prove you can beat the reigning conference champion.
Manhattan College had the opportunity when it faced off against defending MAAC champion Iona, but the preseason conference favorites’ struggles continued as the Jaspers fell 85-73 in a rematch of last year’s title game at the Hynes Center last Friday night.
Following the game Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said his goals haven’t changed even though the team has lost three of its last four games and two straight.
“We want to win the MAAC championship,” Masiello said. “That is our motivation from last year. It has nothing to do with Iona, the thing it has to do with them is that is they are the team that advanced. We want to be where they went. We want what they’ve had. I say that in a respectful way. Iona is the defending champions. Someone has to dethrone them and we didn’t show that we can do that tonight.”
The Gaels used a 17-3 run to take control of the game in the second half. The spurt included two monster dunks by David Laury, who led all scorers with 21 points. The first tied the score at 50-50. Later in the rally A.J. English, who had 14 points, hit consecutive threes to put the Gaels up 56-50. Laury’s second slam put Iona up 61-53 with 8:23 remaining in the final half.
“David (Laury) is a talented player,” Masiello said. “He is very good. It is what makes them good they have a lot of weapons they shoot it they go inside, outside. I just think Sean Armand, who had 18 points, is something special, he sets the table. I think his mind set is awesome. I am a big big fan of that young man.”
During this span the Gaels (12-8, 9-2) showed they could score from any part of the floor. They also held the Jaspers’ Rhamel Brown, who had 15 points, to five in the second stanza.
Before the game-changing run, the Jaspers looked like they had control of the game. They came out of the locker room on an 11-0 spurt, which erased a 39-34 half time deficit.
After Iona regained the edge in the game, Manhattan settled back down and was able to cut the Gaels lead to 64-62 on a pair of free throws from Ashton Pankey.
“We had them 11-0 to start the second half. Thought we come out and put our stamp on it,” Masiello said. “Good teams respond and they responded. And we responded we cut it two.”
But the Gaels attack of Laury, Armand, and Mike Poole, who had 19 points, was too much for the Jaspers (14-6, 7-4). Michael Alvarado and Emmy Andujar added 11 points for Manhattan in the loss. Masiello and the Jaspers will head back to the Bronx and try to get back on the winning track.
“Being picked second, they (Iona) are good,” Masiello said. “The good thing is we get them again at our place. We are going to adjust, go watch the film, and get better. “