SPRINGFIELD, MASS. – Manhattan punched its ticket to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship Game on Sunday as the Jaspers rallied to a 60-42 semifinal victory over seventh-seeded Fairfield (19-15). The Jaspers have a familiar foe awaiting them in the title contest in local rival Iona (19-13). The sixth-seeded Jaspers and fourth-seeded Gaels will square off Monday for the MAAC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.
Sophomore forward Emmy Andujar erupted for a game-high 16 points to lead Manhattan (14-17) to its third straight victory over Fairfield this season. Michael Alvarado poured in 12 points as he shot 8-for-9 from the free-throw line to help send the red-hot Jaspers into the MAAC Championship Game for the first time since 2004.
Manhattan’s defense was tenacious, again, propelling the Jaspers to their eighth win in the last 10 contests. The Stags were held to a 34.9% field goal shooting percentage, including a 0-for-9 effort beyond the arc. The Jaspers contained Derek Needham (14.7 ppg), holding the Stags’ leading scorer to only four points on 2-for-10 shooting.
It took the Jaspers a good part of the first half before they warmed up as the contest tipped off approximately 15 hours after their quarterfinal victory over Loyola concluded. Manhattan trailed by as many as 11 points with less than nine minutes remaining in the first half before the offense got going.
Alvarado scored five of Manhattan’s nine straight points that put the Jaspers within 16-12 with five minutes on the clock. The Jaspers then scored the final seven points of the first half to take their first lead of the game into the locker room. Alvarado hit a midrange jumper, Andujar converted a layup, and then it was a three-pointer by sophomore forward Donovan Kates that sent Manhattan into intermission with a 23-22 advantage.
Manhattan outscored the Stags 37-20 in the second half by hitting 53.8% (7-13) of its field goals and 22-of-27 (81.5%) free-throw attempts. Senior guard Mohamed Koita gave the Jaspers some breathing room nine minutes into the stanza with a key three-pointer from the corner to go up 34-28.
The Jaspers opened a double-digit advantage that it maintained the rest of the way with graduate student Roberto Colonette‘s free-throws at 4:03 to put Manhattan up 48-37. Colonette finished with a season-high nine points and grabbed three rebounds.
Junior Rhamel Brown scored seven points, grabbed a game-high seven rebounds and swatted three shots in 22 minutes of work. Brown took sole possession of fourth place on the MAAC’s single season blocks chart (94), and he is now two blocks shy of tying LaSalle standout and NBA star Lionel Simmons (248) for third place on the conference’s career blocks list.
Kates also finished with seven points, while Koita added five and sophomore guard RaShawn Stores chipped in four. Kates and Stores combined to shoot 8-for-8 at the free-throw line.
Fairfield was led by junior forward Maurice Barrow who scored 15 points. The Stags received 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting off the bench by freshman forward Coleman Johnson.
The Jaspers are now one victory away from earning the program’s fourth Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship. Manhattan can also make history by becoming the only six seed to win the MAAC title.
Manhattan and Iona have never faced each other in the Championship Game. Their last meeting was in the 1994 MAAC Tournament Quarterfinals, which Manhattan won 99-65 improving to 2-1 against the Gaels in the postseason.