ALBANY, New York — The third time was a charm for Manhattan.
After losing two tight games during the season to rival Iona, the Jaspers knocked off the top-seeded Gaels 79-69 Monday night to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title for the second straight year.
"It's a very proud moment for me, but this is all about my players," said Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, who nearly left after last season and was placed on leave after being disqualified for the South Florida job because of false claims on his resume. "These guys have taken this program into a whole new atmosphere. I couldn't be prouder of these young men. It's more than basketball to us. And they're the reason I'm here."
Ashton Pankey had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Emmy Andujar added 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Jaspers Manhattan.
It was the third straight time the New York-area rivals met for the MAAC tournament title and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and the defending champion Jaspers (19-13) rallied late to win it again. Manhattan, which lost to Iona two years ago, improved to 4-2 against the Gaels in the MAAC tournament.
Now, it's on to bigger things.
"We've been there," said Pankey, who earned the tournament's MVP honors. "We battled Louisville (as a 13 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament) and we went right down to the wire with them. We're trying to go win games there. We're not just going there just to experience it and lose first round.
"Sweet Sixteen, Final Four, that's what we're about," Pankey said as Masiello jokingly tried to muffle his microphone.
Iona (26-8) was 17-3 in the conference in the regular season, posting two close wins over Manhattan — 70-67 on the road in mid-January and 79-75 at home a month later.
This wasn't what the Gaels were expecting.
"Not fun for anyone here," Iona coach Tim Cluess said. "We're obviously upset after a game like that. We worked hard all year. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't work out."
Iona junior guard A.J. English was 7 for 10 on 3-pointers in a 95-77 semifinal win over Monmouth on Sunday and 6 of 10 against Siena in a 74-71 victory on Saturday and had a key hand in seven close victories. He was a non-factor in the second half of this one, failing to score and attempting only three shots after a riveting close to the first half. He had 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
"It was typical Manhattan defense," English said. "They played well. It's just basketball, just another game."
The Gaels entered the game shooting 40 percent as a team from beyond the arc and were coming off a 19-for-35 effort in their semifinal win against Monmouth on Sunday. They finished 5 of 22 (22.7 percent) against the Jaspers.
"We're a team that's built on making 3s," Cluess said. "We needed some from yesterday. The same shots we got yesterday, we got today. We just missed them."
Kelvin Amayo converted a layup off a pretty feed from Laury to tie it at 60-all with 7:01 left but missed the free throw after he was fouled.
After Richards sank two free throws, Amayo then missed a soaring one-handed dunk try as he attempted to beat the Manhattan press.
"I should have made the play," Amayo said.
Seconds later, Andujar converted a fast-break layup at the other end to give Manhattan a 64-60 lead with 6:22 to go.
Pankey made two free throws and a leaner in the lane to boost the Manhattan lead to 71-63 with 4:03 left and the Gaels were done.
Iona trailed for most of the first half, hitting just 2 of 13 shots during a dry spell before Amayo hit a pretty driving scoop and sank the free throw to complete a three-point play and give the Gaels a 20-19 lead midway through the period.
RaShawn Stores scored nine points, his only points of the game, during a 13-2 run that gave Manhattan 32-22 lead with 5:56 left.
English, Iona's leading scorer at 20.2 points per game, was held to just 1-for-5 shooting and two points for the first 18 minutes. He then made two free throws and two long 3-pointers to pull the Gaels to 39-37 at halftime.
Manhattan: Head coach Steve Masiello, assistant strength and conditioning coach Heshimu Evans and announcer Chris Williams have been part of all five appearances by the Jaspers in the NCAA Tournament since the program joined the MAAC for the 1981-82 season. ... Pankey averaged 18 points in the two previous games against Iona, shooting 70.6 percent (12 of 17) and 12 of 13 from the line.
Iona: English combined to shoot 13 of 20 on 3s in tournament victories over Siena and Monmouth but was 2 for 8 in this one. ... Despite allowing five 3-pointers and shooting just 35.7 percent (10 of 28) in the first half, the Gaels made 14 of 15 free throws to keep pace. ... Head coach Steve Masiello celebrated his 56th birthday on Monday.
Manhattan: NCAA Tournament.
Iona: Awaiting postseason matchup.