Springfield, MA (Sports Network) - An automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament is on the line at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Monday night, as the Manhattan Jaspers tangle with the Iona Gaels in the title game of the 32nd annual Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament.
Seeded fourth for this year's tourney, the Gaels are the most successful of the current members of the MAAC in this event, having taken home the trophy a total of seven times, but that hasn't happened since 2006. Sporting a record of 39-24 in the event overall, Iona began this year's run with an 89-85 victory versus Canisius on Saturday and then followed it up with a 79-73 victory versus top-seeded Niagara on Sunday afternoon.
Sixth-seeded Manhattan, which is facing the Gaels in the championship round for the first time ever, started off the 2013 edition of the tournament with a 55-52 win against third-seeded and defending champion Loyola-Maryland two nights ago, and continued with a 60-42 romp over seventh-seeded Fairfield yesterday. The Jaspers are seeking their fourth MAAC Championship, the first since 2004.
The teams split a pair of meetings during the regular season, with each winning at home. Iona posted a 78-70 victory back in early January, and then bowed to the Jaspers at Draddy Gym by a single point, 74-73, in double- overtime a day after Valentine's Day. As a result, the Gaels now own a 44-37 edge in the all-time series.
Manhattan led by just a single point against the Stags at the break on Sunday, but in the second half the Jaspers dialed up the pressure at both ends of the floor and outscored Fairfield by a 37-20 margin to claim the comfortable win. Emmy Andujar finished with a game-high 16 points off the bench, Michael Alvarado added 12 as the team survived a mere 2-of-11 shooting behind the 3- point line. As poor as the Jaspers were out on the perimeter, it was still greater than the Stags who missed all nine of their long-distance tries.
Playing without George Beamon (16.8 ppg) for the majority of the season has not been easy for the Jaspers, but clearly they've played well enough at the right time in order to make it this far into the postseason. Rhamel Brown remains the only player scoring in double figures with his 11.5 ppg, his 7.3 rpg and 94 blocked shots also pacing the program and helping them to limit the competition to just 59.9 ppg.
Except for Tavon Sledge who finished with seven points, every starter scored in double figures for the Gaels as they pulled away to defeat Niagara yesterday afternoon. David Laury dominated in the paint with 20 points and a game-high 17 rebounds, helping to give his team a 45-32 advantage on the glass overall. Lamont Jones accounted for 17 points, though shooting just 5-of-17 from the floor, followed by Taaj Ridley and Sean Armand with 16 and 13 points, respectively.
Jones may be the MAAC Player of the Year and one of the top scorers in the nation with 23.3 ppg, but yesterday the Gaels showed that he doesn't have to be the focal point of the offense in order for Iona to thrive. Jones, who has camped at the free-throw line (213-of-241) this year, is also first on the unit with 114 assists, many of those going to Armand (16.9 ppg) and Laury (13.2 ppg) who is averaging a double-double with his 10.6 rpg. However, even with Laury ruling the paint, the Gaels are beating opponents by a mere 0.2 rpg this season.