Ugly does not even begin to describe what occurred in Draddy Gymnasium on Friday night.
In what was the lowest-scoring MAAC game of all time and the second-lowest result in all of college basketball since the introduction of the three-point line in 1986, Manhattan defeated Fairfield, 34-31. The Jaspers finished the game on a 5-0 run. (And yes, five points does count as a “run” in a game like this.)
“I’m as happy as can be about it,” said Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello. “Our kids fought hard. There was no quit in them.”
He went on to say, “Tonight, I’m more proud of this win because our offense was not good. We didn’t shoot the ball well, but you couldn’t tell that on the defensive end…There was no letdown from an effort standpoint because of the lack of offense.”
In the first meeting between these two teams, Fairfield had another brutal game offensively as the Jaspers triumphed, 62-40. They were doomed by a terrible start from the field, but initially things seemed quite different on Friday.
Fairfield (17-13, 9-8 MAAC) opened up on a 12-2 run in the first five minutes thanks to hot shooting from beyond the arc. Freshman Josip Mikulic opened the night with a three-pointer out of the right corner.
Then fellow frosh Marcus Gilbert knocked down a pair of long balls. Senior point guard Derek Needham finished the run with one more from deep.
Unfortunately, the Stags would go on to score only 19 points over the final 35 minutes while making eight field goals and only two more treys.
Manhattan (12-16, 9-8 MAAC) climbed back into the game with strong play from freshman Shane Richards and junior Rhamel Brown. The Jaspers went on a 13-0 run, which included a pair of three-pointers from Richards, two layups from Brown and a trey from senior forward Roberto Colonette, to take a 15-12 lead.
The rest of the first half went back and forth, and Fairfield wound up taking a 19-18 lead into halftime thanks to another three-pointer from Gilbert.
Fairfield and Manhattan exchanged a few buckets to begin the second half, and the Stags took a 31-29 lead on a back-door layup by Keith Matthews. The Stags were still clinging to that lead inside of two minutes to play, and, with the way the offense had been going, a two-point lead seemed like a 10-point lead.
The Jaspers had a chance to tie it with RaShawn Stores heading to the line for a one-and-one, but Stores missed the front end. One possession later, though, he shook off the miss at the charity stripe and drilled a go-ahead triple from the left corner that would prove to be the game-winning shot.
“I’m so proud of RaShawn,” Brown said. “He missed a free throw, and he came back and focused on defense. Then on the next possession on offense, he hit a three.”
After a Needham turnover, Manhattan sophomore Donovan Kates gave the ball back to Fairfield after he lost control on a drive to the basket. Just like Stores, Kates would get his shot at redemption.
The Stags failed to score on offense and Kates rebounded Amadou Sidibe’s miss. Fairfield was forced to foul to extend the game. Junior Maurice Barrow fouled Kates, an 83.5 percent free-throw shooter who has not missed from the stripe since Feb. 3.
After rattling the first one in, Kates swished the second, and Manhattan took a comforting three-point lead into its final defensive possession.
“He turned it over (on the previous possession),” Masiello said. “He didn’t hang his head…He got the rebound and made the two winning free throws.”
Fairfield collapsed Manhattan’s defense as the Stags looked for a three-pointer to force overtime. Barrow was left wide open on the perimeter, but his shot missed as the buzzer sounded. As it turned out, Barrow had a foot on the three-point line, so even if he made it, Fairfield would have lost, 34-33.
Here is Masiello’s take on that final play: “We made a big mistake. We were supposed to switch all pick and rolls. I said, ‘If it was a three-point game, whatever you do, run them off the line. Give them the two and don’t foul…Emmy (Andujar) left (Barrow open in the corner). I have no idea why. I think he just wanted to see me have a heart attack.”
Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson saw the game as within their reach, but the shots simply weren’t falling. “I definitely liked our offensive execution,” he said. “The offensive conversion just wasn’t there.”
For Manhattan, Brown did not have a fantastic offensive game with six points on 3-of-10 shooting. But as always, he was a major factor on the defensive end. The reigning MAAC Player of the Year blocked five shots, setting a new Manhattan single-season record with 87 swats, and he also altered numerous others.
“I try to know my opponent’s tendencies,” Brown said. “Despite the fact that sometimes I can’t get the block, I just try to do my best to make them change their shot...There are so many shots that I didn’t block, but they threw up floaters and shots they’re not accustomed to taking, and it led to a lot of misses.”
Masiello said, “You see [the opponents] get into the lane, and it’s almost like they downshift, slow down, and they’re looking for Rhamel.” He continued, “I really think teams go to sleep at night like, ‘Where’s Rhamel Brown?’ because he is such a bother, even when he’s not blocking shots...You know he’s going to come get you.”
Manhattan was picked to finish second in the MAAC back in November. But with an injury to reigning MAAC scoring champion George Beamon, which wound up being season-ending, the Jaspers struggled in non-conference play and early on in league play. But since Jan. 27, they are 6-2 in the MAAC, and they also have a non-conference win at Buffalo.
“I did a bad job because I didn’t change (when Beamon got injured),” Masiello said. “I just kept everything the same, thinking George was coming back. I was putting Shane and Donovan and Emmy in bad positions with the basketball. Then we had two first-year point guards who weren’t really used to it. So I did a bad job coaching this team early on.
"I personally think in early January, we got our feet and realized George wasn’t coming back…The identity of our team had to change. We’re not Iona and Niagara. We can’t go score 95. What we can do is guard you pretty good and make it tough for you.”
The Jaspers control their own destiny for a top-six finish in the MAAC, which means they would avoid the play-in game and only need to win three games in Springfield to make the NCAA tournament.
With a win over Loyola (Md.) on Sunday, Manhattan would guarantee itself at least the No. 6 seed. If the Jaspers beat Loyola, Fairfield beats Marist and Iona loses to Siena, then Manhattan would be the No. 5 seed.
However, if Manhattan loses to Loyola and Fairfield beats Marist, the Jaspers would drop back to seventh place and be forced to face the last-place team in the play-in round.
Others notes from Friday night:
—The lowest-scoring game in college basketball since the introduction of the three-point line was on Dec. 14, 2005, between Princeton and Monmouth. Princeton won that game, 41-21.
—Manhattan honored seniors Roberto Colonette and Mohamed Koita prior to Friday night’s game. “I’m just really, really proud of our guys gutting it out and send Roberto and Mo out of here the way they should be,” Masiello said.
—Here is Masiello’s slightly humorous take on the MAAC tournament. Masiello was asked Manhattan now controlling its own destiny to avoid the play-in round and go straight to the quarterfinals. “We don’t care if we’re the 10 seed. Whatever seed we are, we’ve just got to go play. You guys worry about [the seeding]. We don’t care where the game is, what time we play, who we play. We know what we believe in. We know what we’re about. We know we can beat anyone. We know we can get beaten on any night. Seeding is irrelevant. I mean, it’s not the NCAA tournament where it’s a 1 and a 16. It’s the MAAC. We’ll play whatever seed you want. Make us an 11 seed. There’s 10 teams. We’ll be the 11. It doesn’t matter to us.”
—One more fun scoring stat for Friday night: Iona’s Momo Jones scored 35 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field. As a team, Manhattan scored 34 points on 12-of-47 shooting, and Fairfield scored 31 points on 12-of-45 shooting.
Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot, a blog dedicated to college basketball news, observations and insights on nationwide topics. You can follow Jesse on Twitter at Jesse_Kramer, and you can follow The Catch and Shoot at Catch_N_Shoot.
All quotes were obtained in person.