As the final horn sounded on Manhattan’s improbable run to a second straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championship Monday night, Jaspers senior forward Emmy Andujar could do little to control his emotions as he crumpled to the floor. Senior point guard RaShawn Stores soon joined his teammate on the floor as the emotions of the Jaspers’ stunning 79-69 victory over top-seeded Iona washed over the victorious duo.
If it seems like an unusual way for the Jaspers to celebrate their back-to-back MAAC titles, you have to understand what has transpired with this Manhattan team over the past season.
Andujar’s older brother, Jose, was murdered in April 2012 and Andujar was called to testify for the prosecution just this past December. Sophomore center Carlton Allen lost his father to cancer in February. Ashton Pankey’s brother was hospitalized for a serious medical condition and that’s just some of what these Jaspers have had to deal with this season.
“We’ve all lost someone,” Stores said. “So we’re all we have. That’s why this year we’re ‘22 Strong.’”
The slogan stands for the number of members in the Manhattan basketball family, from players to coaches, and it has been the Jaspers rallying cry this season, a season where no one thought much of Manhattan’s chances at a repeat in the MAAC or another magical March experience in the NCAA Tournament.
But thanks to Andujar’s double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds), Pankey’s team-high 21 points, 13 points from Donovan Kates, another unheralded senior, and Shane Richards’ 11 points, the Jaspers are going dancing again for a second straight season. And it is even sweeter this time around.
“I think with all we’ve been through this season, and I don’t want to air everyone’s personal stuff, but it’s been a lot to deal with,” Richards said. “And then you know coach had to go through that thing with his degree. It all helped pull this team together and now we’re champions again.”