In the biggest game of his college career, and the perhaps the biggest game in the history of his program, former Maryland Terrapin Ashton Pankey put on his best performance of the season.
Against reigning national champion Louisville, Pankey scored 16 points and grabbed five rebounds as No. 13-seeded Manhattan ran the Cardinals to the wire before falling short, 71-64, on Thursday night in Orlando.
Though the narrative centered around the matchup between the coaches, Manhattan’s Steve Masiello once an assistant under Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, it was the physicality on the interior with help from Pankey that nearly made the upset happen.
Pankey and Rhamel Brown, one of the nation’s best shot blockers, matched Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell for nearly 40 full minutes before a late unraveling gave the Cardinals enough room to escape.
“You give them that one opportunity, they make you pay,” Masiello said after the game. “That's why this team is a defending national champion and top five in the country.”
Pankey’s performance in that big of a spot on national television in what would have been the tournament’s biggest upset so far would seem to cut deeper for Maryland, which had to watch him walk away from the program and return closer to his New York City home.
But just as Maryland’s front line this season had its ups and downs with Charles Mitchell, Shaquille Cleare, Jonathan Graham, and Evan Smotrycz, Pankey had his share too. He started the season slow and had patches offensively where he had consistency issues.
That all disappeared for one night in March, though, as Pankey almost helped to lift his team to an upset of a trendy pick to repeat as national champions. The only difference? It came in Manhattan green instead of Maryland red.