Manhattan is going dancing again.
The No. 3 seeded Jaspers upset top-seeded and rival Iona 79-69 in the MAAC men’s basketball title game last night at the Times Union Center in Albany. The Riverdale school beat the Gaels for the second straight year in the final and reach the NCAA tournament in consecutive years of the first time since 2003-04. It is the eighth tourney berth in program history.
Ashton Pankey, the tournament’s most outstanding player, tallied 21 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks and Emmy Andujar had 18 points and 11 boards for Manhattan (19-13). Shane Richards added 11 points and eight rebounds, but the game’s biggest contributions came from Donovan Kates. The senior forward dropped in 13 points and hit numerous key shots. Iona (26-8) won both regular season meetings.
Jaspers coach Steve Masiello lauded his players, especially the seniors from his first recruiting class, after the game. It was a tough year for Manhattan since last season ended with a loss to Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Masiello appeared to headed to South Florida, but an issue with his college diploma caused him to lose the job and land back with the Jaspers.
“It’s because of them,” Masiello told FoxSports after the game. “Their bond is so big, you can’t break this team up. Emmy Andujar, RaShawn Stores, Donovan Kates came here with six wins. They believed in me before I ever did everything. They believed in a vision. I can’t tell you what it means. I can’t even put it into words. I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for these kids.”
The Jaspers shot 43.3 percent from the field and outrebounded the Gaels 41-34. Manhattan also made nine three-pointers. The biggest came from Kates late in the second half. It started a game-changing 10-3 run that put Manhattan in full control. The Jaspers built a 77-66 lead after two Pankey free throws with 23 seconds left in the game,
The Manhattan defense stifled the high-powered Gales offense all night. Iona shot just 39 percent from the field and only 5 of 22 from three. David Laury had a game-high 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the Iona. Kelvin Amayo added 11 points and 10 boards.
The Jaspers now await their NCAA tournament fate. They find out where they will be dancing and to and against who during the NCAA Selection Show 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS.