For the first time in a decade, the Jaspers are headed to the Big Dance.
Manhattan defeated Iona 71-68 Monday night in the MAAC tournament final at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., to punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. The field of 68 will be revealed on CBS at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
“I never cry, but that almost brought me to tears,” said senior co-captain George Beamon moments after cutting down the nets with his team. “It was definitely a memorable night for the community.”
Added head coach Steve Masiello: “We have so much love and support in New York, it’s amazing. I think we got the program back to the great place where it needs to be.”
Beamon, who was named tournament MVP, had 16 points and eight rebounds and Rhamel Brown scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, as the Jaspers (25-7, 15-5) won for the 11th time in 12 games and avenged a loss to Iona (22-10, 17-3) in last year’s MAAC final. The teams split two regular-season meetings.
“It’s very fitting,” Masiello said about Manhattan and Iona vying for the league’s automatic bid. “You get the opportunity to take care of something you didn’t take care of last year. I’m just so proud of what’s happening.”
Donovan Kates, an 82 percent free-throw shooter, hit the front end of a 1-and-1 with 16.3 seconds left — his only point of the game — to give Manhattan a three-point lead, and Iona missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. “To step to the line like that and even make one of two,” Masiello said of Kates, “it really put the pressure on Iona.”
Shane Richards scored 14 points off the bench, including both ends of a 1-and-1 with 23.7 seconds to play, and Emmy Andujar added 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, with five rebounds.
RaShawn Stores hit a layup and a 3-pointer during a 9-0 run to give Manhattan a 44-38 lead with 13:53 to play, prompting an Iona timeout. The Jaspers never again trailed.
“Basketball’s a game of runs, it just mattered who got that last run,” Stores said. “Most of us had been here before. We knew we had to bring it and we did.”