BY CHRIS CIRILLO & DANIEL YNFANTE
SENIOR WRITER & ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
There’s no place like home.
After playing its first 13 games in 11 different venues, the Jaspers (3-2 MAAC, 6-8) returned to Draddy for just the third time this season defeating Saint Peter’s, 68-63, in the process.
The Jaspers improve to 3-0 at home this season and have won seven straight and 12 of the last 13 games dating back to last season.
“It was a great win for us,” Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said. “I thought we really came out in the first half, executed extremely well and had a great defensive mentality for the night.”
The Manhattan offense came out on fire in the first half. A dunk by Ashton Pankey on the first possession of the game sparked a 26-11 run at the 9:11 mark.
The dunk by Pankey foreshadowed what was to come, as Pankey had one of his best games of the season. He finished with 18 points and nine rebounds while tying his career-high with three blocks and two assists.
“I just wanted to establish my presence,” Pankey said. “I think the past two games I was kind of out of it. I had to get my rhythm back and he [Masiello] challenged us, especially me. He challenged me, we watched a lot of film together and he showed me a lot of spots where I was struggling and tonight I just wanted to make my presence known.”
Masiello praised his big man’s performance after the game.
“We wanted to go inside right away to him and establish him,” he said. “I think he is arguably, no, I think he’s the best big in the MAAC.”
The Jaspers hit its first nine shots and didn’t miss for the first 12 minutes and 58 seconds.
The Jaspers shot 15-16 (93 percent) from the line, a season high for a half this season, while shooting 12-19 (63.2 percent) from the field, also a season high. The half was highlighted by eight layups or dunks, including an alley-oop from RaShawn Stores to Pankey. A 10-0 run by the Jaspers to close the half gave them a 19 point lead, which was the largest margin of the game.
“We’re a pretty good defensive team,” Saint Peter’s head coach John Dunne said. “We didn’t show it today until late in the game. They were getting uncharacteristic for us. They were getting alley-oop dunks, and we were lunging and just giving them lanes to the rim.”
Saint Peter’s jumped out to a 6-0 run to start the second half and would eventually cut the deficit to single digits with 7:14 remaining. It would continue to chip away, as a 12-2 run would cut the Manhattan lead to four with 3:48 remaining. RaShawn Stores answered moments later with a three-pointer from the top of the key and Saint Peter’s rally would come up just short.
Emmy Andujar led all scorers with 21 points and became the 36th player in Manhattan history to score 1,000 career points.
He needed just 20 points to reach 1,000 and came out firing right away, scoring 15 points in the first half.
“I did know I was kind of close, but I didn’t know exactly what the numbers were like,” Andujar said. “But I was just being aggressive for my team. This is a win. It’s conference play. Every win counts, so I was just trying to be aggressive for my team.”
The Jaspers shot a season high from both the field (50 percent) and the free throw line (78.9 percent). Its 38 free throws were also a season high.
Masiello is now 8-0 all-time as a head coach against Saint Peter’s. The Jaspers held the Peacocks to just 56.3 points per game last season on 37.1 percent shooting from the field, and this game was similar. Saint Peter’s shot 41 percent from the field, including just 2-16 (13 percent) behind the 3-point line.
“We’re always going to be a defensive team,” Masiello said. “Now, guys are starting to learn the rotations, our back tips, our inside steals, and we’re doing a good job at that and we’re going to continue to get better at it. As long as we understand we’re a defensive team, we’ll be okay.”