This Cinderella story just wasn’t meant to be.
Manhattan College’s comeback season ended Monday night with a three-point loss to Iona in the MAAC title game. After leading for much of the game, the Jaspers could not contain the higher-seeded Gaels, falling 60-57, at the Massmutual Center in Springfield, Mass.
The championship pitted MAAC’s best offensive team, the Gaels, against its best defensive team, the Jaspers. Yet the old sports cliché — defense wins championships — proved false on Monday night. While Manhattan was able to keep the country’s third highest-scoring team to only 60 points — Iona averages 80 points a game — it wasn’t enough to seal the win.
Manhattan’s defense, led by Rhamel Brown, kept Iona on its heels for most of the first half. Manhattan also shot better from outside. At halftime, the Jaspers led 26-24, but the team’s offense fell apart in the second with costly turnovers and mental mistakes.
While the Jaspers were able to hold onto their lead for the first seven minutes of the third quarter, Iona began chipping away, finally taking a 37-35 lead. Over the next few minutes, Iona went on a 9-0 run and the momentum shifted to the Gaels.
With 8:40 left to play, Manhattan was down by 10, but a pair of foul shots by Bronx-born guard Michael Alvarado and a big 3-pointer from another Bronx-born guard, RaShawn Stores, helped close the gap.
Down the stretch, Manhattan cut Iona’s lead to 4 with a steal and lay-up by Emmy Andujar and a pair of foul shots from Rhamel Brown. In what may have been the most crucial play of the game, Manhattan could not come down with a loose rebound on the other end of the court. Iona hit a pair of foul shots and the game was over after a dunk by David Laury.
Alvarado led the Jaspers with 14 points. Forward Shane Richards was perfect from long distance, with 9 points on three 3-pointers. Stores scored 8 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said the loss will be something to build on next year.
“We’re going to look back on this day and cherish it,” he said. “And this will be the fuel to Manhattan’s future.”