Manhattan College and Fordham square off in the Battle of the Bronx nearly every season. Heading into last night's game, the Jaspers held a 51-49 record against the Rams.
Alternating the site every year, Fordham played host for the 101st edition of the Battle.
About 200 Manhattan students and fans made the five mile drive to give a Jasper presence at Rose Hill Gym.
The fans were not disappointed.
Chris Smith's steal and dunk to put the Jaspers on the board first riled up Manhattan's fans, and the Jaspers kept the momentum to open the game on top, 6-0.
The Jaspers let Fordham's big man, Chris Bethel, have his way inside, and the Rams took their first and only lead at 10-8 six minutes into the game.
Smith and Devon Austin led Manhattan to a 13 point lead, but the Rams followed with a 13-1 run.
Darryl Crawford and Andrew Gabriel combined to score the next nine points for the Jaspers, and Manhattan had a chance to push their lead past 10 points going into the half.
With three seconds left, Crawford bounced a pass into Herve Banogle, but the Rams came away with the ball and Trey Blue nailed a buzzer-beating three to leave Fordham trailing 41-34 at the break.
Manhattan increased the lead to 13 with 11 minutes left in the game, but coach Barry Rohrssen decided to switch into a 2-3 zone on defense. Fordham hit two three-pointers, forcing Rohrssen to switch back to man defense.
With six minutes left, Fordham only trailed Manhattan by eight points and appeared to have the momentum heading down the stretch. However, Crawford came up with two big plays for the Jaspers.
After finishing a layup, Crawford stole the ball back and took it in for another score to put Manhattan up 12.
From there, Manhattan coasted on to an 81-67 win, and started 3-0 for the first time since 2004-05.
Fordham stands no chance of being competitive in the Atlantic-10.
Freshmen Jio Fontan and Trey Blue are talented, but each need to work on certain parts of their game in order for the Rams to be competitive.
Fontan is one of the quickest guards in the Metropolitan area, and was able to beat his man into the lane almost at will. However, he had trouble finishing, and only shot 3-15 from the field. If he works on executing his layups and develops an outside shot, Fordham will benefit greatly.
Blue is an excellent three-point shooter. He has already converted on 10 of his 19 attempts. However, he needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end. Blue struggled to make shots for himself and relied on his teammates to create space for him to shoot.
Senior forward Chris Bethel was very impressive last night. He only averaged 3.1 points and 1.5 rebounds per game last season, but had 24 points and 10 rebounds against the Jaspers.
Manhattan's big men were incapable of stopping Bethel all over the floor. He established his inside game early, but stepped out for a mid-range jumper and then a trey later in the game.
Bethel shot 10-14 from the floor, but will not be able to be as dominant against the bigs of the A10.
Brenton Butler, who averaged 11 points per game and shot 34 percent from beyond the arc last season, did not start and only saw 23 minutes of action. He still managed to score nine points on 3-4 shooting from three.
For Manhattan, there are three blatant problems that Rohrssen continues to ignore.
First, Antoine Pearson needs to start at point guard instead of Patrick Bouli.
Bouli is a talented guard who does everything well. He rebounds, passes, and plays outstanding defense. However, he does not look for his shot and is too slow coming up the court when pressure is applied to him.
Pearson was an All-MAAC Second Team member in the preseason, yet Rohrssen continues to start Bouli.
Pearson is the best ball-handler on Manhattan and has a great ability to penetrate and pass or take it in himself. When Pearson is in the game, the Jaspers play their best basketball because he gives them the ability to move fast on offense.
As the Jaspers' returning leading scorer, fans expected to see him in the starting lineup.
Secondly, Manhattan is strongest in a man-to-man defense.
Every time they switch to a 2-3 zone, their opponent nails open three-pointers. It doesn't make sense for Rohrssen to switch to a shooter's zone when the Jaspers play shooting teams like Fordham and Morgan State. He faced the ramifications in both games.
The third problem is hard for Rohrssen to fix this season.
Manhattan does not have any good big men. Gabriel is their best, but he is only 6'5". He brought in 6'9" Herve Banogle last season, but all the Cameroon native can do is foul and rebound on occasion.
6'9" sophomore Laurence Jolicoeur has not played yet this season, but is better on the perimeter than the inside.
The worst sign for Manhattan is that Rohrssen's sole recruit from the class of 2008 has not played one minute this season. Djibril Coulibaly is a 6'9" center from Africa, and Rohrssen claimed that he has the potential to be a top-post player in the MAAC. If that is true, why hasn't he played?
When Manhattan plays teams like Niagara, Iona, or any other team with good big men, the Jaspers will need to hope that luck is on their side.
Manhattan played very well as a team. They shot 49 percent from the floor, 33.3 percent from three, 74.2 percent from the line, had 14 assists, and only 11 turnovers.
Chris Smith, Devon Austin, Darryl Crawford, and Andrew Gabriel all scored in double-figures.
Smith led the Jaspers with 21 points. The sophomore has a proclivity to look down at the ground before he pulls the trigger from beyond the arc. Whenever he does this, he misses the shot; however, he sinks most of his attempts when he looks ahead before shooting.
Crawford was awarded the Mike Cohen Award for being the best all-around player in the 101st edition of the Battle of the Bronx.
The junior from Harlem had 17 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals, and shot 9-10 from the charity stripe. He also had those two big plays that helped the Jaspers regain the momentum late in the game.
Note to Barry Rohrssen: Your team played best when the lineup was Pearson, Smith, Crawford, Austin, and Gabriel. It's a small lineup, but when you don't play teams with multiple big men, it works well.
Manhattan travels to Brooklyn on Wednesday to play Rohrssen's alma mater, Saint Francis.
The Jaspers defeated the Terriers at home last season, but lost in overtime in 2006-07.