For the second straight season, Manhattan has defeated Iona in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Manhattan won, 79-69, on Monday after losing to Iona twice in February by a combined seven points.
What was the difference this time around?
“I think our team is playing our best basketball come February and March,” Manhattan coach Steve Masiello told John Jastremski, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Iona is terrific. They’re extremely talented on the offensive end. We watched some things we did the first two games that we thought as a staff – actually, my point guard, RaShawn Stores saw them – (that) we could take advantage of.”
Manhattan placed four starters in double digits: Ashton Pankey (21 points), Emmy Andujar (18), Donovan Kates (13) and Shane Richards (11), while limiting Iona to 5-of-22 shooting (22.7 percent) from three-point range.
“Iona’s terrific,” Masiello said. “They don’t have many weaknesses, but we were fortunate enough tonight to really do a good job of taking away the three-point line, making them work to make some hard twos. I think our conditioning really helped us on the third day. I think our depth was a big factor. I thought we got to their legs early. It was almost like a heavyweight fight where you threw a lot of body blows and you might not have seen it, but I think over the course of 40 minutes, it took a toll on the body and I was fortunate enough to get a win.”
The Jaspers play a high-pressure, turnover-forcing defense – something Masiello learned when he was an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville from 2005 to 2011.
“I get no originality points whatsoever,” Masiello said. “I’ve made it clear for several years now. Everything I do is from Coach Pitino. I try to emulate everything he’s done. We try and duplicate that and put our own little touch on it in certain areas, but I kind of call us the Triple-A of Louisville. He’s meant so much to me. He’s had such an impact not only on my basketball career, but on my personal life. He’s taught me so much about the game.”
Interestingly enough, Masiello squared off against Pitino in the NCAA Tournament last year, with Louisville escaping with a 71-64 win.
Now the Jaspers are dancing again. Masiello said the biggest keys for his team – regardless of opponent – with be forcing turnovers and winning the three-point battle, which he called “the biggest neutralizer of talent in any sport.”
Whatever happens, Masiello is just proud that Manhattan (19-13) got back to the tournament.
“It’s funny,” he said. “This one, for me, is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had in my career. It’s probably the biggest – just because of what I’ve been through, what this program’s been through, what these kids have been through. For me to have these seniors go out this way – they came here four years ago with a vision, but I hadn’t won a game. They believed in me. They believed in something that hadn’t existed. They had blind faith. And I just couldn’t be more proud for them. For them to come in and go out this way is what it’s all about. I’m lucky. I have an easy job. I coach great people who are talented – so they deserve the credit, not myself.”