by JOHN JACKSON, Sports Editor
Manhattan Madness may have been on Oct. 30, but Draddy Gymnasium held host to some additional madness on Nov. 6 as both basketball teams opened their regular season in a nighttime doubleheader.
The women’s basketball team got things started off in the earlier of the two games as they took down LIU Brooklyn by a score of 61-46. The young team that features only one graduate student and no seniors was able to create havoc on the court for the Blackbirds.
“We just want to have constant energy, constant effort,” head coach Heather Vulin said in a postgame interview with Go Jaspers. “And I felt like they gave that to us tonight.”
That energy came from the get-go for the Jaspers. The Blackbirds took their first and only lead of the night at the 7:52 mark of the first quarter on a layup by sophomore Tia Montagne for the first points of the game. Junior Julie Hoier responded with a layup of her own 14 seconds later to tie things up at 2-2. There was one more back-and-forth between the Jaspers leading the game at 4-2 and the game being tied at 4-4 before junior Gabby Cajou’s first two points of the game gave the Jaspers an early lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
The Jaspers ended the first quarter with a comfortable 19-5 lead thanks to a team effort. Six players contributed to their 19 points, seven players contributed to their 13 rebounds and four players contributed to their six steals.
“Pressing consistently definitely helps us create havoc for the defense,” Cajou said in a postgame interview with Go Jaspers. “It gives us an opportunity to just let teams know that we’re here to play, we’re here to fight from the start.”
The second quarter was more competitive as a whole, as evident in the teams’ point differential of two, but it was all Jaspers for the first two minutes. After already cementing a 14-point lead in the first quarter, Cajou and freshman D’Yona Davis built it up to a 21-point lead by the 8:00 mark.
However, the Blackbirds started fighting back with a barrage of shots. Freshman Shyla Sanford, sophomore Ella Vaatanen and freshman Kiara Bell combined for 11 points in less than three minutes to make it a 26-14 game. The Jaspers got back four of those points before the conclusion of the half on a jumper by junior Tuuli Menna and on a couple of free throws from Cajou.
LIU showed some life in the second half. That began in the third quarter which was the only quarter of the game in which the Blackbirds outscored the Jaspers.
Sophomore Jeydah Johnson kicked off what turned into a dominant quarter for her when she sunk a three-point shot at the 8:43 mark. Sophomore Courtney Warley went on to make three of four free throws before Johnson struck again with a jumper. Johnson also managed six points from the 3:38 mark to the 2:04 mark to give her a total of 11 points for the quarter.
While Johnson scored 11 points and the Blackbirds outscored the Jaspers 18-13 in the quarter, the Jaspers still held a 43-32 lead going into the fourth.
In the fourth quarter, the Blackbirds chipped away at the Jaspers’ lead for the first few minutes. After a layup by Vaatanen at the 7:02 mark, the Jaspers led by eight which was their smallest lead since the 4:02 mark in the first quarter. However, they kept things under control and Cajou contributed 11 points of her own.
At the end of the game, Cajou had amassed three rebounds, four assists, one block, five steals and a career-high 28 points in 35 minutes of play.
Cajou is no stranger to being a spark plug for the team as evident in her career 398 points, 100 steals, 177 assists and 130 rebounds in 61 games over the last two seasons. What was somewhat different for her was producing results from the starting lineup rather than doing so off the bench. The reigning MAAC Sixth Player of the Year started this game after only starting in one of the 31 games she played in last season.
“I feel like it’s kind of the same,” Cajou said in her interview with Go Jaspers in response to whether this new role is different. “I’m kind of the spark plug from the start so I feel my teammates help surround me with that energy.”
The defensive effort by the Jaspers was a strong one as they had an impressive 22 defensive rebounds and 23 steals. Furthermore, they held the Blackbirds to a mere 46 points. They only managed to hold their opponents to 46 points or less in five of their 31 games during the 2017-2018 season and only once in 30 tries during the 2016-2017 season.
“We really want to create chaos with our press and our defense, and we definitely accomplished that tonight,” Vulin said in her interview with Go Jaspers .
The Jaspers lost 73-65 over the weekend on the road against St. Francis Brooklyn to fall to 1-1 on the season. They play their next game at 5:00 p.m. on Nov. 14 in Albany against the University of Albany before coming home to defend their court against Stony Brook University at 2:00 p.m. on Nov. 17.