2014 MAAC Championship: Manhattan Drops Iona, 71-68 To Earn MAAC NCAA Bid

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The conference's two best teams - and the two that like each other the least - faced off for a chance at continuing their season, and the Jaspers were the victor for the second time this season.

It's definitely a unique experience, watching a game on replay. I often tell folks that, even if I've already had the ending spoiled, I still like to at least check things out so I can know how that end result was achieved. Boy, am I glad I did that tonight.

Iona and Manhattan had their ups and downs, but they were the preseason favorites to win the conference, and would also wind up finishing the regular season in those positions. Manhattan looked a little nervous early on as they forced passes unsuccessfully and allowed those to turn into easy Iona buckets for an early 9-4 deficit. But the Jaspers turned up the defensive pressure themselves and before you knew it they had their second lead at 11-10.

Senior point guard Michael Alvarado was playing with a facemask due to a facial laceration in the semifinal game against Quinnipiac, and I was curious to see how the team played with him in there, since the last I watched Manhattan he left early with an ugly ankle sprain. That wound up not happening, as he only played 14 minutes.

What did wind up happening? Iona had no idea what to do in the first half when Manhattan got drives and got two of his starters - Isaiah Williams and Mike Poole - into foul trouble; they both had two fouls by the time five minutes had been played. The Jasper defense stretched to the three-point line and dared David Laury (the team's star sixth man, in the game early due to Poole;s foul trouble) to beat them, which he didn't, as he went only 2-for-8 from the field and missed all three free throw attempts. He may have snagged eight boards, but that was boosted partly by getting blocked twice on one possession by Ashton Pankey.

Laury also tended to take his sweet old time bringing the ball up court, which slowed down an already stagnant Gales offense - thanks in part to an 11-0 run at one point, the Jaspers took a 33-27 lead into the half.

Tim Welsh, the former Iona head coach who also served as color commentator for the game, said at one point that he liked Tim Cluess' willingness to play a guy even if he had two fouls. I'm not sure that's so much a desirable coaching trait as it is a byproduct of having such a short rotation, and it seemed destined to be the Gaels undoing when Poole picked up his third foul before halftime and started the second frame on the bench.

Iona did a much better job early on in the second half of finally taking advantage of what Manhattan was giving them (aka the paint) and getting some in-closer looks, as the Jaspers scored the opening basket of the half but then allowed an 11-0 run by Iona. That didn't last long, though, as Manhattan got some quick points from Rashawn Stores and took the lead back at 39-38 with 15:50 left to play. Despite their best efforts, Iona never so much as tied the score the rest of the night.

Retaking the lead was extra impressive for Manhattan as they did it with George Beamon on the bench, but once they got the Gaels off their game early on they never really seemed to recover. David Laury likes to ball handle and play "point forward," much to the detriment of his teammates. His back-to the basket game isn't strong enough to catch the ball above the low post, nor is he aggressive enough with his ball-handling to be the ideal guy to bring the ball across midline.

Cluess finally got his guys away from that misguided pattern in the second half, but they by then they had been muddled for too long, and they never really found any sense of rhythm on the offensive end.

It also says quite a bit about how balanced Manhattan's game was that I'm just now mentioning Beamon's performance - he led the team by the end of the game with 16 points and eight rebounds, but he was invisible for large stretches of the game (taking breaks on the bench, or just not being the focus on offense) and it didn't seem to affect the Jaspers much. Emmy Andujar, the Gaels' kryptonite, chipped in 12 points and five rebounds of his own on several easy layups to help.

I wish I knew what happened, because this wasn't the Iona team we know; massive chunks of time spent ball-watching (on both offense and defense) and generally looking like a team crumbling under the pressure of the moment. How else do you explain the Gaels falling to a team known for it's pressure defense despite that defense not getting one single steal?

Anyways, this will be a very interesting NCAA Tournament trip for Manhattan. George Beamon is a unique talent, Rhamel Brown and Pankey can block shots, Alvarado is a strong point guard (if he can stay healthy), and they are a deep and experienced team.

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