Jaspers Ready for MAAC Tournament
By Ronak Patel
RIVERDALE, NY – The regular season finale and Senior Night for the Manhattan men’s basketball team did not end the way they wanted it to with a 62-60 loss to Loyola Sunday night at Draddy Gymnasium.
Despite falling to the Greyhounds, Manhattan finished its regular season with 20 wins against 11 losses and an impressive 12-6 mark in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). The Jaspers will go into the MAAC Tournament as the #3 seed and take on sixth-seeded Siena in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
The 20 wins marks the 11th time in the program’s history the Jaspers have reached that plateau and the first since 2005-06. In a season that saw a new coach, Steve Masiello, and a team have the country’s biggest single-season turnaround in wins from last year (14-game improvement), the Jaspers are confident heading into the tournament in what appears to be a wide-open scenario at the MassMututal Center in Springfield, Mass.
“Overall, we’re very happy with our regular season,” Masiello said.
The first year head man continued, “The tournament is fun, I will tell our guys to play very loose. People tend to get tight because they feel it’s an elimination scenario and they play conservatively. I want to get up and down and go and play free.”
That unbridled mindset will serve them well come the MAAC Tournament. Take note in the game against Loyola, the Jaspers drew several charges, two of which came from senior Kidani Brutus playing in his last home game. Despite giving up several inches to the man he was guarding, Brutus was down there among the post players doing the dirty work.
“I’ve told these guys to be playing games now that mean something is a compliment to your program,” Masiello said. “There are only about 100 teams playing right now that the games mean something. We’re one of those teams and that’s a great accomplishment for us.”
Offensively, no player improved more in the MAAC and quite possibly in the country than junior guard George Beamon. The co-captain scored 24 points against the Greyhounds and finished the regular season averaging 18.4 points per contest. He completed the regular season hitting 54-three pointers, a jump from the eight he made last year. Beamon scored in a variety of ways against Loyola, including coming off screens, facing up and shooting over his defender from the perimeter.
“I told Beamon after the game no one has improved more in the country,” Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos said after the game. “I watch a lot of players and the improvement in his game is unbelievable. (Beamon) has got everything going for him; he comes off the screen, makes the three-pointer, he pulls up, he gets fouled and works without the ball.”
For Beamon personally, he’s not proud of the stats he’s peppered on the opposition this year, but more for the team camaraderie his Jaspers have.
“We have more of a family bond,” Beamon said. “Everybody is a family; we win some and lose some but we are together as a team and that’s how we’re going to be in the MAAC Tournament.”
Patsos, who has orchestrated a remarkable turnaround at Loyola over the years, has been impressed by how this Jaspers team plays the game.
“I love the way his teams play,” Patsos said of the Jaspers under Masiello. “We’ve had two great games against each other and we won on a last second shot and they lost on a last second shot. I certainly don’t want to play them in the tourney.”
What makes the Jaspers noteworthy is they are never satisfied. Despite a tremendous turnaround, a tremendous team unity and team success this year, the coach strongly believes in the players and pushes to get the very best out of them.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Masiello said. “They don’t make excuses; they understand the goal and nothing comes between it. There is no plan B with them, it’s only plan A and that’s a credit to them.”
Masiello was an assistant here from 2001-05 when the Jaspers achieved fantastic success, including two trips to the NCAA Tournament (2003-04) and one NIT trip (2002). They won the 2003 and 2004 MAAC Championships. Now, in his first full year as the lead man, the Jaspers are coming off their most successful regular season since 2005-06 and in prime position to compete for the MAAC Tourney title.
“It’s a great opportunity; I’ve been part of MAAC Tournaments where we’ve won them, where we’ve lost them,” Masiello said. “There is no better feeling than that Monday night when you get that win and then head to Selection Sunday. It’s the greatest time of year.”
Whatever the outcome is, one thing is certain, this team has earned their coaches highest compliment.
“They get it,” Masiello said of his team’s approach to basketball and life. “I don’t think they get enough credit for the job they’ve done with this program; everything matters to them.