by Pete Janny, Asst. Sports Editor
The Manhattan Jaspers (7-17, 5-7 MAAC) began the latter half of their four game home stand when they squared off with the first place Rider Broncs (12-10, 7-3 MAAC). The Jaspers entered the game looking to extend their winning streak to three after registering big wins against Fairfield and Saint Peter’s in their first two tilts of the home stand.
Entering the night owners of a MAAC-best 63.1 opponents points per game, the Jaspers knew they were going to need to show up in earnest on the defensive end in hopes of knocking off the high-flying Broncs. Steve Masiello’s side looked poise from the outset and rarely had a bad sequence the whole night. Bolstered by the play of a few key contributors, the Jaspers turned on the jets in the second half to roll past the Broncs 73-66.
Both teams got off to hot starts in what was an exhilarating first stanza. After Tyler Reynolds connected on a three to open the scoring, Rider swiftly ignited a 9-0 run to jump out to a 9-3 lead that was eventually quelled by a Samir Stewart three pointer. Trailing 17-10, Manhattan sparked a 5-0 run off of a Tyler Reynolds triple and a Tykei Greene floater to bring the Jaspers to within two at 17-15 with 12:20 left in the first half. Reynolds continued to keep Manhattan on Rider’s tail for the remainder of the half by nailing big shots, including a triple and a mid-range jumper that cut Rider’s lead to 26-22 and 31-24, respectively. Mired in a 35-28 hole, Stewart drilled a big long ball in the closing seconds of the half to slash Rider’s lead to 35-31 at the break. Reynolds set the tone for his team with a first half performance that featured four three-point field goals from the junior sharpshooter.
“He’s very focused and very locked in,” said Head Coach Steve Masiello of Reynolds. “We see what he’s capable of when he’s put in the right situation.”
Manhattan grabbed their first lead since the opening minute of the game when Stewart connected on a corner three to put his team up 40-38 at the 17:25 mark of the second half. After exchanging leads for the ensuing ten minutes, Manhattan broke through in a big way. Down 56-54 with 7:56 to play, Manhattan spearheaded a 12-0 run to seize their biggest lead of the night at 64-56. Manhattan’s outburst was highlighted by back to back three point daggers from Reynolds and Stewart, respectively. Equipped with a 70-66 lead with 34.1 seconds left, Stewart and Reynolds iced the game with a few clutch free throws.
“These guys did a total job tonight and played vintage Manhattan basketball,” said Masiello.
Reynolds led Manhattan in scoring with 23 points while also collecting seven boards. Stewart continued his impressive rookie campaign producing 19 points on four of five shooting from beyond the arc while also adding five assists. Masiello raved about the potential of his freshman phenom.
“He’s special. His IQ is off the charts,” said Masiello of Stewart’s game. “I haven’t ever trusted a freshman like this.”
Stewart credited his teammates for allowing him to be successful on the court.
“My teammates believe in me and I believe in them,” said Stewart. “They put me in positions and I put them in positions and we do whatever we got to do to win.”
Manhattan wrapped up their home stand when they played host to the Sienna Saints (12-12, 7-4 MAAC) last Friday night. The Jaspers came into the game playing their best basketball of the season having gone unbeaten in their first previous three tilts. Playing in front of another electric crowd at Draddy, the seventh place Jaspers looked to continue their ascent up the MAAC standings with Siena and multiple other teams positioned only slightly better.
Both teams struggled mightily right from the get-go with neither team able to find an offensive rhythm at any juncture of the opening stanza. As Siena misfired at will, the Jaspers maintained the lead for the entirety of the first half. Despite Manhattan’s rigid cushion, the team’s biggest lead was a mere seven point advantage that came at the 9:23 mark. All things considered, Manhattan’s scant 17-16 edge at the break had Steve Masiello’s team knowing they should’ve created more separation while the door was left open. As for the opposing team, Siena’s hellish half of basketball was illustrated by their shooting numbers. The Saints shot the ball at a 24% clip from the field while misfiring on all of their 11 attempts from downtown.
The arrival of the second half signified a rebirth for both teams. Siena opened the half with an explosive 7-0 run that gave the Saints a 23-17 lead and abruptly shifted the momentum away from the Jaspers. After a Tykei Greene free throw and an Ebube Ebube lay up off a Siena turnover, the Jaspers came to within three at 23-20. However, Siena’s resurgence had more fireworks. With senior Evan Fisher leading the charge, the Saints progressively stretched their lead to as much as 13 at 39-26 by way of efficient execution. After back to back Fisher baskets pushed Siena’s lead to 43-29 at the 6:55 mark, Manhattan’s hopes of keeping their three game winning streak alive seemed remote.
Much to the surprise of the crowd, Manhattan had one last comeback bid in the works.
Fueled by more Reynolds heroics, the Jaspers launched a 12-2 run in the closing minutes to get within four at 45-41 with 1:45 remaining. Moments later, the Jaspers responded to a Jaylen Pickett three-point play with another Reynolds three to make it a one-possession game at 48-45 with 38.1 seconds left.
The thrilling action didn’t end there.
Down two with four seconds left, Nehemiah Mack retrieved the rock off of a Siena missed free throw and launched a half-court prayer that fell short as time expired. Despite their rocky first half, Siena escaped Draddy with a 51-49 win to end Manhattan’s win streak at three games.
Reynolds shined again for Manhattan amassing 18 points while collecting a career high 9 rebounds. The Manhattan junior posted averages of 16.8 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game during the four game home stand. For the opposing team, Fisher led the charge with 18 points.
“His ability to shoot the ball has really helped our offense a lot,” said Masiello of Reynolds. “I’m really happy about his nine defensive rebounds tonight.”
Manhattan will get an entire week off before returning to action on Friday, February 15th at Niagara for the first game of a two game road trip that also includes a stop at Canisius.