Injury-plagued might not even scratch the surface when describing the Manhattan Jaspers’ current situation.
Perhaps decimated, annihilated, or slaughtered are more applicable.
Call it hyperbole, but the team injuries reached an almost comical level against George Mason, as the Jaspers were down to only five healthy scholarship players, and seven overall.
And yet the Jaspers, someway, somehow found a way to win the game 69-67.
On paper, it sounds counterintuitive, but the reality is that the seven-man Jaspers actually did pull off the seemingly monumental task.
It nearly never happened though. For 39 minutes and 58.9 seconds, the Patriots controlled the game and led 67-66. But with 1.1 remaining, Shane Richards pump faked on the left block, his defender went up, and so did Richards, who absorbed the contact to sink a game winning jump shot he then turned into a three-point play at the free throw line.
“Put the ball in the basket,” Richards said about what the strategy was for the last play. “I was just praying to God we didn’t have another George Mason from last year. I saw it in my head. I was like, ‘please, not again.’ ”
For the Jaspers to have even had a chance to win the game was a feat in its own. Down to just seven players, it felt as if the Jaspers would be put to rest at any point in the game.
But that wasn’t the case, as the Jaspers quelled each run by George Mason and managed to stay in the game.
Despite 61 percent shooting from the field in the first half from the Patriots, the Jaspers hung in thanks to their defense, which forced 11 turnovers, which the Jaspers converted into 11 points of their own.
Eleven was a popular number in the first half, as it was what the Jaspers trailed by—42-31—at halftime.
In the second half, it seemed like George Mason had finally gone on that run that would put the Jaspers to rest, building a 16-point lead.
But Manhattan revealed its secret weapon, its vaunted press defense. It’s a tactic that hasn’t been a secret to most teams. It’s what opponents expect from Manhattan and prepare a game plan against.
But with only seven players available, the Jaspers did not press as often as they usually do in the first half in order to preserve energy.
In the second half, it was a completely different approach. The press was back and in full effect.
“It’s not a style that I like to play, but I also do want to adjust and play to our strengths,” Steve Masiello, Manhattan’s head coach said about not pressing in the first half. “I wanted to more pick and choose our spots where we could speed them up and I thought we did that.”
The Jaspers slowly cut into George Mason’s lead behind 14 second half turnovers.
With 2:17 remaining, Matt Maloney buried a triple from the top of the key to give the Jaspers a 63-62 lead, their first lead since the 14-minute mark in the first half.
However, the Patriots would score five of the next eight points to go up 67-66 with 15 seconds left to play.
The Jaspers called a timeout and set up the possession for Richards, who converted on a 3-point play to give Manhattan the 69-67 lead for good.
As they did in last season’s contest, where Jalen Jenkins hit a 75-foot three to win the game, the Patriots had another look for three in this game, but Shevon Thompson’s 40-foot heave would not go down on this occasion.
The buzzer sounded and the shorthanded-Jaspers had pulled off the victory.
Rich Williams led the way for Manhattan with 26 points and nine rebounds in 40 minutes of play.
“With the amount of guys that we had today, I just wanted to come out tonight and do what I do,” Williams said. “Trust in the process, I’ve been here. … It was time for me to step up a little bit.”
Thomas Capuano also had a second consecutive impressive performance, finishing the night with 14 points, four assists and five steals.
His play has been one of the few silver linings from the team injuries, but the biggest positive: grit.
“Probably one of the guttiest performances I’ve seen since I’ve been a coach here,” Masiello about the game. “Just from an all-out, gut-out performance, I thought this team, these six guys. … refused to lose. They had a heart of a champion. Great win for our program.”
The games keep coming for the Jaspers, who will have little time to heal before Saturday’s game on the road against Fordham, for the annual Battle of the Bronx.