Just walking into Draddy Gymnasium, you knew that this game was different. For one, there were students in the stands. A lot of students. And they were all wearing white. Usually the Jasper Jungle has a few hardy souls that have come to root on Manhattan, but tonight it was full. (We'll ignore the fact that Jaspers, named after Brother Jasper from the late 19th century, probably shouldn't be in a jungle in the first place.)
Why was this game different? Why were CBS' Jon Rothstein and other members of the New York media here? Why had a couple St. John's students made the trip up to the Bronx just to watch the game? It wasn't because Manhattan had won its last two games in convincing fashion to start off 2-0 in MAAC play; it was because this was the Battle of the Bronx. Fordham had come across the borough to Riverdale, and this game was for all the marbles.
This was the 104th edition of this game that the two teams have been playing almost continuously for 100 years now. This season, it featured a hot young Manhattan team led by Steve Masiello and Rick Pitino's Louisville wizardry that he'd brought back to Riverdale. (In fact, Rothstein would tweet during the game that Manhattan looked like a "AAA version" of the current No. 4 team in the nation.) At 5-4 and 2-0 in league play, there was some buzz that maybe this team really was back. A new era of Manhattan basketball was starting.
There was some of that same buzz at Fordham just last season. Tom Pecora took over the Rams after coaching at Hofstra, and it was supposed to be the start of something new. But no one realized just how much work he was going to have to do.
For unlike Masiello, who seems to have inherited the pieces that nicely fit into his pressing, aggressive offensive scheme, Pecora started to build from the ground up. He had a few nice pieces like Chris Gaston, but he needed more.
And then Manhattan zoomed past. Junior George Beamon, Manhattan's star player, scored eight points before the Rams even knew what hit them. The early hole was too much. The Jaspers kept the Rams at bay for the rest of the first half and then put the pedal to the metal in the second half, roaring away for a convincing 81-47 victory.
The students were delighted. As sophomore Rhamel Brown sent back two Fordham shots in the same possession the crowd yelled with excitement. Both teams have a lot of new faces this season, but it was obvious that these two teams are moving in different directions.
Fordham is struggling. Pecora has recruited talented young players, but they're still learning to play together. The pieces haven't gelled quite yet. The wins have been hard to come by. Everything needs to go right.
Manhattan is rising up. A sleeping giant at the end of the 1 train, the Jaspers won 20-plus games in five of the six seasons between 2001-02 and 2005-06. They were once a MAAC titan. Now that energy is back.
When Masiello came to Manhattan he brought with him a fascination for players around 6-foot-6 that can do everything on the court. Classifying Emmy Andujar and Donovan Kates as guards or forwards is a matter of semantics. Andujar, a freshman from the Bronx, is listed as a forward, but he's got a great basketball IQ and the ability to push the ball by himself in transition.
It was fitting, then, that after the game Andujar was named the MVP of the Battle of the Bronx. He scored 14 points, grabbed seven boards and dished out seven assists, but his contribution was much more than that what was in the box score. He is part of a new group of players at Manhattan.
After the game, Masiello said that even though the Jaspers were 6-4, he wasn't happy. He expected to be 9-1 after its first 10 games. (I guess he understood that beating Syracuse at the Carrier Dome would've been the tallest of orders.) You can live with being unsatisfied if the end result is still this good. For two teams met in an arena on Wednesday night, and left heading in two very different directions.
at MANHATTAN 81, FORDHAM 47 12/07/2011
FORDHAM 3-4 (0-0) -- D. McMillan 4-11 4-8 12; B. Smith 1-3 0-0 3; A. Estwick 2-7 0-0 5; B. Frazier 3-8 2-2 9; C. Gaston 4-7 0-0 8; K. Bristol 0-0 0-0 0; R. Canty 2-2 1-3 5; L. Samuell 0-3 1-4 1; M. Dominique 1-2 0-0 2; J. Short 0-4 2-2 2; L. Zivkovic 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 17-50 10-19 47. MANHATTAN 6-4 (2-0) -- E. Andujar 5-7 3-5 14; G. Beamon 5-9 2-4 15; R. Colonette 3-8 1-2 7; M. Alvarado 3-4 5-5 12; K. Brutus 1-4 0-0 2; D. Kates 2-5 4-6 10; L. McCabe-Moran 3-7 2-2 10; R. Brown 3-6 3-4 9; M. Koita 0-1 0-0 0; R. McCoy 0-0 0-0 0; D. Anderson 0-3 0-0 0; K. Laue 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 26-55 20-28 81.
Three-point goals: FORD 3-17 (A. Estwick 1-4; B. Frazier 1-3; D. McMillan 0-2; J. Short 0-4; B. Smith 1-2; L. Zivkovic 0-2), MAN 9-19 (L. McCabe-Moran 2-6; G. Beamon 3-3; M. Alvarado 1-1; K. Brutus 0-2; D. Anderson 0-1; E. Andujar 1-1; D. Kates 2-5); Rebounds: FORD 28 (K. Bristol 6), MAN 39 (R. Colonette 9); Assists: FORD 5 (B. Frazier 3), MAN 16 (E. Andujar 7); Total Fouls -- FORD 23, MAN 20; Fouled Out: FORD-None; MAN-None.