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Hoops, history, all part of the Battle of the Bronx

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As far as rivalries go, the Battle of the Bronx may not rank up there with Yankees-Red Sox. Maybe it’s not Duke-North Carolina, Ohio State-Michigan or even Alabama-Auburn.

But as far as New York City college basketball goes, there is none better or more historic than when Manhattan College and Fordham step onto the court together.

The rivalry is an ancient one, with the first game between the two schools tipping off during the 1911-12 season when the Jaspers outlasted the Rams 20-19. To put the rivalry in its proper historical perspective, that game was held a few months before the Titanic sank, three years before the start of World War I, eight years before the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and almost two decades before the Great Depression.

And it’s still a game that annually fills either Draddy Gym or Rose Hill, brings out former players to mingle and reminisce, and gives alumni from the two schools an excuse to break out their weathered college sweatshirts once a year.

And it also carries bragging rights that are cherished by fans of both schools.

Last Saturday, Manhattan senior Tom Capuano took part in his fourth Battle of the Bronx. And while a victory or loss in this game counts just as much as any other on their schedule, there always is a different feeling during Fordham week.

“Everybody gets excited about it around campus,” said Capuano, who has gotten the most out of the rivalry playing in 139 of a possible 160 minutes in his four-game career in the annual matchup. “It’s a rivalry game, and there is usually a great turnout and it’s a lot of fun for the whole campus to get involved. It’s definitely hyped up a lot. Our alumni like to come and watch us play and reminisce about their days at Manhattan. So for them to see this rivalry still going strong, it’s great for them.”

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has been part of 12 Battle of the Bronx matchups, including last weekend’s encounter at Draddy Gym. And while he views the game as just another on the schedule, he knows it means a little bit more to others around the program.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s an exciting time,” Masiello said. “Not necessarily for me and the coaches, but in the sense that we know what it means to our alumni and administration, and what it means to the Bronx. It’s very important to our fans and our students. It matters.”

This past Saturday, in the 111th edition of the Battle of the Bronx, Fordham freshman guard Nick Honor sank a shot in the lane with just 2.6 seconds to play to help the Rams pull out a thrilling 57-56 victory over Manhattan before a packed house at Draddy Gym. It was the second straight victory in the series for Fordham, although Manhattan still owns a 57-54 edge all-time.

“For the alumni of Manhattan and the alumni of Fordham, this game really means something,” Fordham head coach Jeff Neubauer said. “So any time there is a rivalry game, the fans and the students really care about the results.”

Neubauer is now 3-1 against the Jaspers in his tenure at Fordham.

Despite the loss, Masiello thinks Saturday’s game was just another memorable chapter in the ongoing rivalry.

“I thought it was a very significant Battle of the Bronx,” Masiello said. “And give Nick Honor a lot of credit. Nick made a hell of a shot. He’s a terrific young basketball player. And give Fordham a lot of credit (for being) in a tough crowd and tough environment and getting a gritty road win.”

While last weekend’s loss to Fordham will not rank among Masiello’s most favorite experiences in the Battle series, there are countless good memories from his 12 appearances as either a head coach or as a Manhattan assistant.

“I remember playing them my first year as head coach here,” he said. “That was a real special one. Winning over at Rose Hill was an awesome experience, too. Playing them in the Barclays Center (two seasons ago) was a great experience. I have so many great ones in this rivalry because I’ve been in so many of them. It’s just really awesome.”

And long after the wins and losses are forgotten, what both Capuano and Masiello will remember is they will forever be part of New York City basketball history.

“This rivalry has been around for a long while,” Capuano said, “and it’s an honor to be involved in it.”

“Anytime you can be part of something that’s bigger than a single game, that’s bigger than me and bigger than the coach at Fordham, it’s something great to be a part of,” Masiello said. “I’m really excited and honored and humbled to be a part of such a great tradition, and such a tremendous thing in New York City basketball.”

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