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Loss to Iona Provides Room to Grow for the Jaspers

Thomas Capuano, middle, was one of the few bright spots in Manhattan’s 70-56 loss to Iona. Kevin Fuhrmann/The Quadrangle

Following the loss last Friday to the Iona Gaels, Steve Masiello addressed the media in the post-game press conference, as he does after every win or loss, only this time, something didn’t seem right.   

An upbeat Masiello joked around with the media, and answered questions with a confidence and with a poise that a typical head coach on the losing side of a game does not exhibit.

There have been press conferences after wins where Masiello hasn’t carried himself with the composure he maintained after a wire-to-wire defeat to his rival.

But his seemingly unexplainable enthusiasm has some logic behind it. Masiello isn’t interested in winning battles. He’s interested in winning wars.

The loss to Iona is a regular season defeat. What matters is how the Jaspers play them if they meet again in the MAAC Tournament.

Although the loss to the Gaels was in convincing fashion, it still managed to reaffirm a game strategy for the Jaspers, highlighted a weakness they must address if they want to win a third consecutive MAAC title, and provides them with an opportunity to continue to grow.

“As long as you learn from your losses, that’s the most important thing,” Masiello said.

“I really believe in this: If we didn’t lose twice to Iona last year, there’s no way we beat them in the championship.”

Wilson was Exposed

The Jaspers never led against the Gaels for a multitude of reasons. Their struggles on offense and the strong showing from Iona’s supporting cast played a part, but at the top of the list, was Iona exposing Tyler Wilson and his inability to consistently knock down a jump shot.

The point guard is having perhaps the best season of his career, averaging 4.2 points per game, 1.4 steals per game, and 5.8 assists per game, good enough for second in the MAAC. However, Wilson has never been known for his perimeter shooting. On Friday, Iona purposely left Wilson open, challenging him to beat it with his jump shot.

“I think they said, ‘beat us,’ and he didn’t,” Masiello said about Iona’s defense on Wilson. “I think they said, ‘Tyler, make plays, and he didn’t.’ Terrific scouting by Iona, give them all the credit. Where in the MAAC Tournament last year, Tyler when they sagged he dove to the middle, we made him a playmaker more, and then he facilitated from 12 feet and in. Tonight, he wanted to prove his jump shot, that happens sometimes.”

Wilson was unable to hit open shots, shooting two air balls, and knocking down just one of his four attempts from the perimeter. It was perhaps the first time an opponent has dared Wilson to beat it with his shot, and if the other nine teams in the MAAC were watching, it is something they too will possibly implement in their defensive schemes against Manhattan.

The junior is too important for the Jaspers on the defensive end and as a distributor to take a seat on the bench for his inability to knock down an open shot, but if the Jaspers are serious about contending for a championship, Wilson will either have to work on his shot, or get closer to the basket once the defense sags off on him.

Capuano Continues to Impress

If defenses continue to expose Wilson and he becomes a liability on offense, Manhattan may have an answer to those defenses in Thomas Capuano.

Returning to New Rochelle, N.Y., where he played his high school basketball at Iona Prep, the freshman guard picked up eight points, including two 3-pointers, and played solid defense, as he has all season.

“It’s a little exciting,” Capuano said about returning home, “but it’s no different than any other game. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team win. I’m just trying to play hard.”

Wilson will continue to start, there is no discussion there. He is too valuable to the team. But if another situation like the Iona game arises, and the opponent is purposely leaving Wilson open, Masiello might opt for Capuano over Wilson to counter.

Let the ‘Others’ Beat You     

In last season’s MAAC Championship game, Manhattan held Iona’s leading scorer, A.J. English, to a modest 10 points on 3-11 shooting. At the title game two years ago, Manhattan held Iona’s top dog, Sean Armand, to just 13 points on 3-7 shooting from the field.

It is a concerted effort from Masiello to not allow the opponent’s best player to beat his team. This season, the strategy has continued, holding Monmouth’s Justin Robinson to 11 points on 4-11 from the field, and more surprisingly, holding English to a whopping four points on Friday.

“We’re not going to let A.J. beat us,” Masiello said about the team’s gameplan for English. “I don’t want Justin Robinson to beat us. I don’t want teams’ top guy to beat us. Kids are too good today. You leave A.J. English in single coverage, you’re in trouble. He’s got to know multiple people are coming at him.”

Masiello threw constant double teams at English and pressured him up the court, forcing him to pass the ball and rely on his teammates to pick up the slack. Fortunately for English, Manhattan’s strategy worked perfectly for Iona, who received 43 combined points from the trio of Ibn Muhammad, Jordan Washington and Isaiah Williams.

“It’s not about me,” English said about his approach in the game. “It’s about the team. At the end of the day, I know that every team we play they’re going to go with defensive schemes against me. I’ve been playing Manhattan for like four years now and in the past three years they always send double teams, so I just told them [teammates] just be ready to shoot. Doesn’t matter if I score zero points. I’m happy if we win every single time.”

The Jaspers will continue to play this kind of defense, It has worked for them in two consecutive MAAC title games, and they will rather take their chances on having a team’s supporting cast beat them than a team’s best player.

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