Murphy’s Law was in full effect for Manhattan in its First Four game against the Hampton Pirates.
Manhattan just could not catch a break. A loose ball, a foul call, a rebound, you name it, seemed to all go in favor of Hampton. Added to that were some alarming numbers on the box score and it was the perfect recipe for how to lose a game.
In all, there were just too many things that went wrong for Manhattan to pinpoint one, so here are a few.
Hampton shot 49.1 percent from the field on Manhattan, a number way above its 40.6 mark on the season.
It was the highest an opponent shot against Manhattan since Fairfield shot 50 percent on Feb. 15.
Going into the game, Manhattan had to take away Hampton’s 3-point attempts for two reasons. One, Hampton had caught fire from the 3-point line during the MEAC Tournament — 24 threes in just four games. Two, taking away its 3-point looks would force its under-sized team to drive to the basket, where Manhattan would have a height advantage.
The plan seemed brilliant on paper, but the problem was Manhattan ran into a Hampton team with crafty guards and a major-conference caliber player in Quinton Chievous.
From the onset of the game, it was apparent Manhattan was going to have a handful with Hampton’s guards, particularly Reginald Johnson, who scored seven of Hampton’s first 10 points.
Johnson played nothing like a 6-foot-2 guard, showing his fearlessness in taking it to the rim and finishing among the bigs. His tenaciousness was on full display when he went right at Ashton Pankey’s chest and finished through contact for the first two baskets of the game.
As if Johnson was not enough to handle, Manhattan also had to contend with Chievous who proved he should have been playing in a tougher conference this season. Chievous was physical all night long and like Johnson, was relentless in driving to the basket.
His night was capitalized with a highlight, posterizing dunk on Zane Waterman that, if it had not been proven before, Hampton could get whatever it wanted inside.
On the night, Hampton outscored Manhattan 36-24 in the paint, which helped boost its field goal percentage.
Emmy Andujar and Pankey were Manhattan’s best players all season long. As they went, so did Manhattan.
Against Hampton, they went cold. Combined, Andujar and Pankey shot 35 percent from the floor and scored just 20 points.
Their performance was another example of everything that could have went wrong did. They both picked up two fouls in the first half and were each forced to sit out for the majority of the half.
Surprisingly, Manhattan was only down seven despite being without their two best players for a long stretch. But having to sit out for such a long period of time just threw Andujar and Pankey off their rhythm. Neither could get into a consistent flow on offense in the second half, and ultimately, that cost Manhattan heavily.
Seeing shot after shot not go in the basket affected Manhattan’s defense as well, as it was not able to consistently set up its full-court press. More importantly, as Steve Masiello admitted, it messed psychologically with the players.
“Just an off night for us,” Masiello said. “I thought we came out and let our offense dictate our defense a little bit. We didn’t really play typical Manhattan basketball.”
To compound Andujar and Pankey’s struggles on offense, Manhattan’s major supporting cast players struggled as well, especially from the 3-point line, where the team shot a woeful 24 percent.
Four of the six 3-pointers came from Shane Richards, who himself did not have his most efficient game, making just four of his 14 attempts. But the biggest surprise was not Richards missing 10 threes, but RaShawn Stores going 0-5 from downtown.
Stores, perhaps more than Richards, had been Manhattan’s most lethal 3-point shooter all season, with a 42 percent mark. But it was more than just about numbers when it came to Stores. He was the one player on the team that could be trusted to take and make a big shot. Countless times in the season, Stores bailed out Manhattan with a big 3-pointer when a play broke down or with a clutch three that served as a dagger.
But again, what could go wrong, went wrong.
Stores had open looks all game. He just did not make them.
On defense, he picked up three steals and forced several turnovers either on the inbounds or by taking charges. But on a night where Manhattan needed his offense more than anything else, Stores could not deliver.
Manhattan’s strength all season long was its ability to force opponents to turn the ball over.
The Jaspers did just that against Hampton, forcing it to turn the ball over 14 times. But it was negated by the 17 turnovers from the Jaspers.
Playing on a big stage, in front of a full arena and with millions watching on television, the Jaspers seemed rattled from the start.
“I was,” Masiello said in response to if he was surprised by how rattled his team looked. “It just wasn’t our brand. It just wasn’t us.”
The leader in Manhattan turnovers was Andujar, who had six, including two with the Jaspers down five and with less than three minutes to play.
Hampton did have something to do with some of the turnovers Manhattan had. It doubled Pankey on numerous occasions and took away Andujar’s right hand, which forced him left into a clogged paint.
On one occasion, Andujar turned it over by throwing it over Donovan Kates’ head on an inbounds play. On another, there was a bit of miscommunication between Stores and Andujar. Then, Stores threw the ball out of bounds expecting Andujar to come off a screen and float to the corner.
Then came Andujar’s two crucial turnovers. One of them was an offensive foul. The other was when Andujar had the choice to pass it to an open Richards who was on Andujar’s left on a fast break.
Instead, Andujar chose to dribble into a sea of three defenders and was pick-pocketed by Johnson. He then threw it ahead to Emmanuel Okoroba for a 3-point play that stretched the lead to seven.
The shots were not falling for the Jaspers all game long, but the outcome might have been different if they limited their turnovers and given themselves at least a few more shot attempts.