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Ticket Punched: Defensive stand sends Manhattan to the NCAA tournament

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger
Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello celebrates with his team as he addresses their fans after their NCAA men's MAAC conference championship tournament basketball finals game win over Iona in Springfield, Mass., Monday, March 10, 2014. Manhattan defeated Iona 71-68
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Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello celebrates with his team as he addresses their fans after their NCAA men's MAAC conference championship tournament basketball finals game win over Iona in Springfield, Mass., Monday, March 10, 2014. Manhattan defeated Iona 71-68. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Even facing a three-point deficit with 17 seconds remaining in Monday night's MAAC title game, defending champ Iona had to be confident.

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Five Gaels hit more than 40 percent of their attempts from behind the arc this season. With so many deadly outside shooters, surely Iona could at least get a clean look to tie. 

It's a testament to Manhattan that the Gaels didn't anywhere close to the shot they wanted.

When the Jaspers' pressure defense forced freshman A.J. English to pick up his dribble 35 feet from the rim, he could not find an open shooter. Instead he dished to center David Laury, whose first 3-point attempt of the season predictably missed the mark, sealing Manhattan's 71-68 victory.

The defensive stand sent Manhattan to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 when the Jaspers upset Florida in the opening round. This year's team has that kind of potential as well thanks to a defense-first mentality fueled by shot-blocking big man Rhamel Brown and an array of athletic perimeter players.

Manhattan also has enough offense to make a No. 3 or 4 seed nervous. George Beamon is a versatile perimeter scorer, Brown scores with his back to the basket,  Rich Williams is deadly from the perimeter and Michael Alvarado is a steady point guard still healing after spraining his ankle almost two weeks ago.

It's fitting Manhattan had to survive Iona to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.

Iona edged the Jaspers in the MAAC title game last season, split with them in the regular season this year and won the league by two games in the regular season. On Monday night, in the most important game of the year for both teams, Manhattan got its revenge.  

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