The Manhattan Jaspers are a different team than they were two years ago, when they won their fist of consecutive MAAC Championships.
The defensive principles remain the same, some of the players on the roster still remain, but the Jaspers find themselves in a different spot now. They’re no longer the hunter, they’re the hunted.
Taking on the role of the 2013-2014 Jaspers in a sense are the Monmouth Hawks, who were riding a massive wave of momentum heading into their matchup on Thursday with the Jaspers.
Coming off of victories against conference heavyweights in Iona and Siena, the Hawks resembled the Jaspers of two seasons ago as a team on the upsurge, looking to make a statement in the MAAC.
But the Jaspers, with their veteran savvy and big-game poise, spoiled the night for Monmouth, and instead, it was the Jaspers who made the statement in the 78-71 victory.
“That was one of the most fun basketball games I was a part of,” Masiello said about the contest against Monmouth. “I have so much respect for Monmouth and the job King Rice has done and the program they’ve turned out to be. I think he’s done a tremendous job of building it. His kids are a class act. They play hard. They’re competitive. They are a terrific basketball team.”
The win improves Manhattan’s record in the MAAC to 5-4, and makes it known that the Jaspers are still here. They are as serious of contenders in the MAAC as any other team.
“Coach always says, ‘the process is always the same’,” Calvin Crawford, who had a career-high 20 points said. “We talk about March, and January is a long stretch, but we go day by day, practice by practice so it all feels the same to me.”
Statement-making was in full effect early on, as the Hawks came out starting the game 5-6 from the field and in control 12-2. But the Hawks weren’t the only ones trying to make a statement. RaShawn Stores kept the Jaspers close, scoring seven of their first eight points.
With Monmouth in front 19-10, Rich Williams converted on an alley oop, then hit a 3-pointer after a Monmouth turnover, for the first five points of a 10-0 Jasper run.
What seemed like an attempt from Monmouth to deliver an early knockout punch was stifled by Manhattan’s defense which forced the Hawks into eight first half turnovers and a woeful 4-20 from the field after starting the game 5-6.
Behind a superb defensive effort, which also held Monmouth’s star Justin Robinson to two points, the Jaspers carried a 36-30 lead at halftime.
Robinson came out aggressive in the second half, looking to bring Monmouth back into the game and get his offense going. However, his struggles continued, as the point guard went 1-5 from the field in the first 11 minutes of the half.
Capitalizing on Robinson’s woes, and the inability of Monmouth’s supporting cast to carry the load, Manhattan built on its lead. Stretching it to nine on several occasions.
After Williams slammed home an alley oop to give Manhattan a 58-49 lead, the Jaspers seemed to be in control of the game. But Monmouth went on a 15-5 run, led by Robinson, who awoke from his slumber and scored seven points during the surge.
The Hawks regained the lead at 64-63, and entered into a seesaw battle with the Jaspers for the next three minutes. Down 71-69 with less than two minutes to play, Shane Richards knocked down a 3-pointer from the right arc to give Manhattan a 72-71 lead.
Monmouth failed to convert on their chances on offense in their next two possessions, turning the ball over and then missing a layup. The missed chances proved costly, as Thomas Capuano provided the dagger on a 3-pointer from the left arc as the shot clock expired.
“Probably not,” Capuano said in response to whether he’s hit a bigger shot in his career. “I knew they were going to jump the ball and they were going to leave me at some point … I was just able to knock it down.”
The three stretched Manhattan’s lead to five, and after Capuano came up with a steal on the next play, Manhattan iced the game from the free throw line, for a 78-71 Jaspers victory.
“I’m just thinking stop Justin Robinson,” Capuano said about his steal late in the game. “Tyler [Wilson] spun him and he lost the ball, so I just dove on it. All the credit goes to Tyler on that one.”
After the game, Masiello did not hide the fact that his team circled this game as one that was important to take. After hearing what Robinson said during the off season about wanting to come into Draddy Gymnasium and win, Manhattan felt a sense of urgency against Monmouth.
“Yes, but if Justin Robinson didn’t say those things I’d be disappointed,” Masiello said about whether his team was aware of Robinson’s comments. “We were saying those things three years ago. That’s what he should be saying. … We spoke about it a lot. We hung it up everywhere. I’ll be honest about it. These guys probably didn’t want to hear another thing about Justin Robinson after this week, but that’s what good college teams do.”
Next up for Manhattan is a trip to Saint Peter’s on Sunday, where the Jaspers take on the Peacocks.