Coming into this game, I assumed that the fact that Manhattan coach Steve Masiello was a direct coaching descendant of Rick Pitino, albeit at a school of a lesser pedigree, that this would be a game between two teams that operate the same way, but at two different levels.
I may have underestimated the Jaspers just a tiny bit, with regard to exactly what level they were on with their execution - they are much closer to Louisville than I thought. Then again, how was I supposed to know that Masiello knows the Louisville Cardinals offense so well that he would actually spend the night calling out Louisville's plays so his guys knew what was coming?
Manhattan's aggression on defense has always been their calling card, willing to give up the occasional foul that their aggressiveness creates in exchange for the turnovers and transition buckets it can provide. George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Ashton Pankey all flirted with foul trouble all night, with Beamon picking up his third foul with 10:45 remaining and went to the bench, only to return two and a half minutes later and almost immediately pick up his fourth foul.
That aggressiveness clearly rattled Louisville - at one point in the second half, the Cardinals went nearly nine minutes without a basket, shooting 1-for-9 from the field in that span. This Jasper team had to be all over the court and they were, forcing 12 turnovers total, including a whopping six by point guard Russ Smith. Maybe that was affected by his wrist injury, maybe not (his hand got a wicked tape job at halftime), but that's still too many.
Unfortunately for the Jaspers, it all unraveled in the final moments. After a rebounded miss, a lazy cross-court pass by Emmy Andujar with just under two minutes left was snatched by Luke Hancock and resulted in Brown fouling out and Hancock making two free throws to give Louisville a 62-60 lead.
That was followed by consecutive threes by Hancock from each wing, and that was all she wrote. Hancock finished second with 16 points while Smith had 18 of his own.
While they may not have won, the Jaspers just showed everyone (including Gregg Marshall at Wichita State) how to beat the Cardinals - be active and aggressive on defense, pass the ball well and get your bigs active inside. Oh, and shooting better than 9-15 from the free throw line in the last 10 minutes.
Think about that one again. Manhattan missed almost half their free throws down the stretch, but didn't trail by more than three until the last minute of play.
That's something pretty spiffy to hang your hat on headed into next season. George Beamon will be gone, but tonight we got to see what Ashton Pankey is capable of. He led the Jaspers with 16 points and five rebounds, with Andujar's 13 and five coming right behind him. Rhamel Brown and point guard Michael Alvarado will also depart next season, but Pankey, Andujar and everyone else will return.
All I can say is, you're welcome St. Louis (and/or Wichita, or whoever winds up beating a very clearly vulnerable Louisville squad).