by PETE JANNY, Asst. Sports Editor
WBB: MAN 47, FAIR 41
Coming off a dominant win on January 27th at Marist, the Manhattan College women’s basketball team (5-14, 3-5 MAAC) looked to pick up right where they left off when they returned to Draddy this past Friday night for a match-up with the Fairfield Stags (5-15, 2-7 MAAC). In a battle between two defensively sound units, Manhattan was able to stave off a late comeback attempt to sink the Stags 47-41.
After a sluggish beginning for both teams, Manhattan held a 14-6 lead at the eight minute mark in the second quarter. Fairfield quickly responded with a 7-0 run to get to within one at 14-13 before Manhattan freshman D’yona Davis drilled a three pointer at the 4:50 mark to thwart the Stags momentum. After proceeding to relinquish the lead to Fairfield for the first time since the 9:14 mark of the first quarter, freshman Sydney Watkins connected on a three point attempt with four seconds left in the first half to lift Manhattan to a 21-20 lead at the break.
Manhattan’s first half was characterized by nifty guard play that saw Davis and Watkins drop nine and five points, respectively. Head coach Heather Vulin knows just how good her team can be when her guards are active in all facets of the game.
“They love to press and run up the floor and get some great shots in transition,” said Vulin of her team’s guard play.
After a quick basket from Fairfield’s Lou Lopez-Senechal gave the Stags a 22-21 lead right out of the break, the Jaspers woke up in a big way. A Watkins three pointer and two baskets from sophomore Lynette Taitt gave Manhattan a 7-0 run to grab a 28-22 cushion at the 5:35 mark of the third quarter. Taitt was lethal all night, registering six assists to compliment her 10 points.
“I was really impressed with Taitt,” said Vulin. “She had a career game against Marist and followed it up with 10 points and six assists tonight.”
After exchanging buckets for a good portion of the third quarter, Davis’s acrobatic finish in the paint gave the Jaspers a 35-30 lead. Manhattan entered the fourth quarter with a 35-32 lead after a defensive letdown led to an easy lay up by Fairfield’s Khadidiatou Diouf as time expired.
Maintaining a slim advantage, Manhattan knew they needed a solid quarter of basketball to take care of business. Davis opened the scoring in the fourth quarter with a pull-up jumper to extend her team’s lead to five at 37-32. Manhattan followed up Davis’s basket with a three point dagger courtesy of sophomore Sini Makella and a Taitt jumper to push their lead to 42-34.
With a Manhattan victory looking probable, Fairfield had no intentions of going away quietly. The Stags spearheaded a 7-0 run of their own to cut Manhattan’s lead to one point at 42-41. With the Stags threatening, Manhattan was now in dire need of a big play. That big play came in the form of an empathic block administered by Davis on a driving Casey Foley at the one minute mark.
Manhattan sealed the win by going five for six from the charity stripe in the final minute.
“It was an outstanding effort,” said Vulin of her team’s performance. “Fairfield mounted a comeback in the fourth but we found a way to add to our lead and we hit big free throws at the end to take care of business.”
Not often do you see a game where either team is held to under 50 points. However, this meeting did not have the look of a high-scoring affair on paper. Both teams are reputed for their defensive tenacity with Manhattan yielding 59.1 opponents points per game while Fairfield is only slightly inferior in this category allowing 59.9. These two marks are good for both second and third in the MAAC, respectively.
“This game was the definition of a grind,” said Vulin. “Any time the score is below 50 both teams are really locked in on defense.”
Manhattan’s gritty play translated to a 35-32 edge in the rebounding department. Sophomore Courtney Warley collected 13 of Manhattan’s 35 rebounds to yet again help set the tone for her team on the boards. Warley’s consistency on the boards has resulted in her pacing the MAAC with 8.7 rebounds per game. Friday night’s double-digit output represented her ninth such game this season.
Vulin believes Warley’s value extends far past what the stat sheet indicates.
“The stat sheet doesn’t do her justice in terms of how active she is on defense,” said Vulin of Warley’s impact. “She hides the mistakes for us.”
Davis paced Manhattan in scoring with 13 points while Warley added nine points to compliment her 13 rebounds. Fairfield was led by junior Katie Armstrong who finished with 12 points.
Vulin couldn’t be more pleased with the progress her team is showing.
“This young team is getting better and it’s exciting to see that show up in the win column.”