By Andrew Kahn
Emmy Andujar waited a year for this chance: Manhattan vs. Iona for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, his Jaspers overcame an inconsistent regular season to reach the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game, but fell to the rival Gaels by three points. Only twice has the MAAC received an at-large bid, so the Jaspers were left without a consolation prize. All they could hope for was another shot. Last night, they got it, and they made it count, beating Iona 71-61 to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
Andujar, a junior from the Bronx who attended Rice High School in Manhattan, usually plays his best against local rival Iona. As a freshman, he hit a three at the buzzer to pull off the upset. Last season, he hit the game-winning lay-up with five seconds left in double overtime. And in an overtime victory earlier this season, he scored a career-high 28 points, blocking a shot at the end of regulation, stealing a pass and converting a three-point play to give Manhattan the lead for good, and scoring Manhattan’s final basket to seal the win.
“What’s a better story than Emmy tonight?” Manhattan coach Steve Masiello asked after that game. “New York City kid stays home for college and has all the game-winning plays. That’s what’s good about college basketball.”
Andujar is a 6’6”, 205-pound point forward. He can handle the ball like a guard and draw bigger defenders out of the lane. When coaches and analysts talk about players who “do the little things” or “have a good feel for the game,” they’re talking about players like Andujar. His stats are not eye-popping—each year he’s averaged around 8 points, 5 rebounds, two assists, and a steal—but he’s a great defender and takes care of the ball. He’s a master of angles and foot work. If a smaller player is on him, he uses his size and strength to post up and score or kick out to a teammate for an open shot; if a bigger, slower defender is on him, he can drive by and finish around the rim or find a cutter in the lane. Andujar seems to make all his lay-ups, even in traffic, an underrated skill that not all Division I players possess.
The one thing he didn’t have was a MAAC title, but that changed last night. He came off the bench throughout the tournament, but played starters’ minutes. He scored 21 points on 7 of 12 shooting in the semifinal victory over Quinnipiac. He came up big against Iona yet again, despite an uncharacteristic four turnovers, hitting 5 of 6 shots for 12 points. His play earned him a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
Manhattan is probably looking at a 13 or 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they’ll be a big underdog. Their opponent will focus on George Beamon (19 points per game) and Rhamel Brown, one of the country’s best shot blockers. They may overlook Andujar, who comes off the bench and doesn’t do anything at an elite level. He just does all the little things that help his team win the biggest games.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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