Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
You know all those sexy Steve Masiello vs. Kentucky storylines we in the media dreamed up for this week?
Yeah, go ahead and forget about those.
Hampton put a stop to that enticing theme by taking down Masiello and Manhattan, 74-64, in the first NCAA Tournament play-in game Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
The No. 16 Pirates (17-17), who entered the Big Dance with a losing record after winning the MEAC Tournament title, gets overall No. 1 seed Kentucky on Thursday in a Midwest Region game in Louisville. The Wildcats are 34-0 and chasing a perfect 40-0 season. A No. 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed.
“Just an off night for us,” Masiello said. “I thought we came out. I thought we let our offense dictate our defense a little bit. We didn’t really play typical Manhattan basketball, I thought. But give Hampton the credit for that. But I couldn’t be more proud of a group of seniors who, if you would have told me four years ago they would bring us to three MAAC championships, back-to-back NCAA appearances off a team that was 6-25, I would have signed up for and taken it in a minute. They’ve totally changed our culture and put Manhattan back on the map where it belongs as one of the better mid- major programs. And that’s a credit to these players, the seniors and what they’ve done. I’m extremely proud of that. It was a terrific year for us. We came up a little short on Dayton and now we’ve got to go back and build on it.”
Guard Quinton Chievous went for 15 points and 13 rebounds but left the game after rolling his ankle with less than three minutes left and had to be helped off the court. Guard Reginald Johnson added 15 points for Hampton and guard Brian Darden hit two clutch foul shots with under a minute to go and added 11 points.
“Man, I gotta get healthy, man, and my teammates gotta get ready, locked in and focused and hopefully we get a upset at the end of the day,” Chievous, the son of former Missouri star and NBA player Derrick Chievous, said on truTV.
Hampton was already playing without forward Dwight Meikle, a onetime St. John’s commit who was on the bench with a boot on his ankle and is the team’s leading scorer (13 ppg) and rebounder (7.5 ppg). Now Chievous is hurt, too.
“Well, hopefully Quinton will be fine, everything’s been tough without Dwight, but the guys have rallied together,” Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. told truTV.
Of the win, he added: “It means a lot for this program, for the University, for myself, these guys. You know, we’ve been through a hard-fought hard fight. But I’m not going to disrespect 2001. We got another [NCAA bid] and we the only one in our conference I think with two, so I’ll take it.”
Shane Richards led Manhattan with 17 points and Emmy Andujar added 11 for the Jaspers (19-14), who shot just 37 percent from the field. Big man Ashton Pankey struggled to score 9 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Heading into the NCAAs, Masiello, a former Kentucky walk-on and former Knicks ball boy, had been repeatedly asked about possibly playing the Wildcats in Manhattan’s second game.
“I would love the opportunity but we gotta worry about Hampton right now and go one step at a time,” Masiello told Bruce Beck of WNBC-TV in New York on Sunday.
Masiello knew that Kentucky is loaded with nine McDonald’s All-Americans and is the consensus pick to win the national championship and finish 40-0 as the first undefeated team since Indiana in 1976.
“Really what’s so impressive is the way they hit the court every night, they’re just very professional,” Masiello told Beck.
“They come out, they respect everyone and they bring it every night. They’re going to go down arguably as one of the best college teams ever to take the court, 34-0 that’s not easy to do, I don’t care what level, where you are. They have so many options, they’re so deep, just a special group, a special team, they’re going to look to make a deep run in this tournament.”
That deep run will now begin against Hampton and not Manhattan, so go ahead and put those storylines away.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.