ALBANY, N.Y.– It took three years, three losing seasons, and a dismal three-win year in 2014-2015, but the Manhattan College women’s basketball team picked up its first MAAC Tournament win since 2013, defeating the Saint Peter’s Peacocks 60-43.
Behind a strong defensive second half performance, which held the Peacocks to 17 points, Manhattan moved on to the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament, where it will take on Marist.
“I think in the second half we picked up our intensity,” John Olenowski, Manhattan head coach, said. “I thought our defense was really, really good to start off in the third quarter, and offensively I thought we got a little bit hot in that third quarter. Once we got the lead, at that point we were just going to play solid defense and control the clock a little bit.”
A season-high 16 points from Blake Underhill paced the Jaspers on the night. Underhill consistently hit mid-range jumpshots, taking advantage of Saint Peter’s defense, which sagged off on her.
“Going into the game I knew that’s how they were going to play me because my strength is obviously going to the basket, so I knew they were going to play off me,” Underhill said. “But Coach O [Olenowski] always encourages me to hit that shot with confidence and take it when I’m open. Once I hit one and then I hit a second one, I was just comfortable for the rest of the game.”
“I spent hours and hours on showing Blake [Underhill] how to shoot, so that’s why she shot so well tonight,” Olenowski said jokingly. “I deserve all the credit for that.”
Nyasha Irizarry, Manhattan’s second leading scorer on the team made her first appearance for the Jaspers since Feb. 11. The sophomore played only two minutes, but Olenowski said she was just getting her feet wet returning from injury.
“Nyasha [Irizarry] is slowly getting back,” Olenowski said. “But, quite frankly, I felt that Maeve [Parahus] was playing great. We were getting really good scoring from our players. We want to be able to keep everybody healthy and pick our spots. … She will be ready for Saturday.”
Since Irizarry went down, Parahus has been inserted into the lineup, and tonight, was huge for the Jaspers, scoring 14 points and four triples.
“Coaches gave me a lot of confidence,” Parahus said. “When Nya [Irizarry] was out I knew I had to step up and I knew that it was my time to step up and do what she was doing when she was out there.”
The first half was closely contested between the teams, as Manhattan’s largest lead at any point was six.
Amani Tatum got the Jaspers going in the first quarter with six points. In the second quarter, Underhill and Parahus picked up the offensive load and kept Manhattan ahead. Sajanna Bethea kept Saint Peter’s in the game with 15-first-half points, but the Jaspers carried a 31-26 lead into the locker room.
The Jaspers came out firing on all cylinders in the third quarter, going on a 7-0 run, which was capped by Parahus’ triple that extended the lead to a then game-high 12 points. The Jaspers limited Bathea and in doing so, took away Saint Peter’s main scoring threat.
The Jaspers dominated the third, holding the Peacocks to just four points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field.
Carrying a 16-point lead into the fourth, Manhattan remained in control. The Peacocks threatened to make it a game, going on a 5-0 run early in the fourth, but Tatum quickly quieted the momentum with a layup. The Jaspers finished the game in control, winning 60-43.
“We know that this is a really good year for us and that we can go far as long as we play hard and stick together,” Underhill said. “Us seniors definitely want to go out strong.”
Manhattan takes on the Marist Red Foxes in the next round on Saturday at 12 p.m. The Red Foxes were defeated in last year’s MAAC Championship game, but have been under a historic run, winning nine of the last 10 MAAC titles.
“I like our chances,” Olenowski said about the game against Marist. “As good as they are and with all the championships, the group that we have in my mind is very, very special and I think we have the components to really play with them on Saturday.”