Manhattan splits weekend homestand against MAAC best

Jaspers defeat Siena in overtime 71-66, but then fall to Rider by 11 points


The Manhattan men’s basketball team may only be 8-14 on the season, but during an eventful 72 hours a homestand last weekend improved to 6-7 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play. Just as the calendar inches closer to March tournament time.

On Friday night, Manhattan took first-place Siena the distance and beat them in overtime 71-66. The bar was set even higher on Sunday against the red-hot Rider Broncs but the Jaspers suffered a 67-56 setback.

Manhattan ended their weekend in a tie for sixth with Fairfield, having come a long way since Steve Masiello was suddenly relieved of his duties back on Oct. 25.

But interim head coach RaShawn Stores has rallied his troops just fine and Friday night’s victory over Siena gave him his first signature win. The underdog mentality Stores brings is a microcosm of the whole Manhattan team which has battled through adversity all season.

Manhattan has made plenty of winning plays this season that haven’t necessarily reflected on their record. They did it again down the stretch against Siena that disrupted the Saints composure and came back to reward Manhattan.

“Big win time,” Stores said after the Siena game. “We fell short a lot of times this season and just to see these guys battle and for Jasper Nation and the alumni and administration to come out to support us was big time.”

Manhattan stared down a six-point deficit with over three minutes left but went on a run that culminated in a driving finish at the hoop by Ant Nelson with 1.5 seconds left to tie the game at 57 and force overtime. Manhattan received new life when Siena guard Jared Billups missed his second free throw to keep it at a two-point game.

“I read the defense and saw an opening,” Nelson said.

Even in the overtime period, Manhattan had to again overcome a deficit after Siena sharpshooter Andrew Platek knocked down a three to put the Saints up one with a minute and change left.

That’s when Nick Brennen hit the biggest shot of his career to date off an assist from Samir Stewart, who found the marksman Brennen open in front of the Jaspers bench for a game-clinching three-pointer.

The crowd at Draddy Gymnasium, which was 1,137 strong, erupted. It helped complete yet another comeback for the Jaspers, who trailed by seven at halftime.

The game also featured another eye-catching play when Stewart dove for a loose ball with Manhattan leading by two in overtime and went flying over the scorers’ table. The pitbull point guard got right to his feet and leapt back over the scorestable closer to the Manhattan bench, but once again took a messy tumble and had to rise to his feet again, this time with a smile. Stewart’s best impression of Dennis Rodman with his hustle fired up the crowd more and even got a bit on SportsCenter the next day.

The biggest reason Manhattan did not replicate its success on Sunday afternoon was because Rider bullied them in the rebounding battle, 44-27. That overshadowed the Jaspers’ eight three-pointers, seven of which came from either Stewart or Brennen.

It was a game of runs, but the Broncs had more firepower with theirs and launched a 17-3 run on Manhattan which helped open up a 35-21 lead at halftime for the visitors. Manhattan responded with a 13-2 spurt in the second half to close to within eight at 43-35. The closest they got from there was four back two separate times.

Nelson scored 31 points over the weekend, including 19 in the win over Siena. Stewart dropped 15 and 14 points in the two games, respectively,  and cashed in on six threes. Brennen also scored in double figures in both games with four threes to his name.

11 players against Siena saw minutes and 10 against Rider received minutes. Stores is pleased with the experiences his players are gaining in big games.

“These young men are playing meaningful minutes and we are getting battle tested every weekend and now you are seeing the results,” Stores said. “They are believing in each other in big time moments.”

Led by Platek’s 20 points, Siena got a combined 49 points from him, Billups, and Jackson Stormo. On Sunday, Rider’s offense was paced by 20 points from Mervin James and 14 apiece from the conference’s third-leading scorer Dwight Murray Jr.and Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson.

The prior weekend at Canisius, where Manhattan won 81-74, Nelson entered the 1,000-point scoring club and was honored on Sunday before the game.

He was joined by former teammate Warren Williams who returned to Draddy to be honored for his 1,000-point scoring in the kelly green and white. He now plays for Hofstra.

“It means a lot; it’s a blessing,” Nelson said of tackling the famous scoring feat. “I’m not even supposed to be here right now so I give all glory to God.”

Stores sees tremendous scoring growth in his point guard Nelson, who is seventh in the MAAC in scoring at 15.3 points-per-game.

“He’s becoming a great leader and these men follow him,” Stores said. “On and off the court for us.”

Manhattan College, Jaspers, Siena, Rider, MAAC, Ant Nelson, RaShawn Stores, Samir Stewart,