by PETE JANNY, Asst. Sports Editor
Manhattan fans flooded Draddy to see the men’s basketball team (9-20, 7-10 MAAC) play their home finale versus the Monmouth Hawks (11-20, 10-8) on senior night.
Prior to tip-off, the program paid tribute to the careers of seniors Thomas Capuano, Ibrahim Diallo, Matt Maloney, and Samson Usillo for all they have meant to Manhattan basketball during their time in Riverdale. The players were greeted by head coach Steve Masiello and their respective family members for a ceremony at mid-court.
Coming off back to back losses to Iona and Fairfield, the home team knew they needed to spark some kind of momentum with the MAAC tournament less than a week away. The team that awaited the Jaspers on Friday night had experienced a strain of adversity comparable to the cascade of hardships that Manhattan had endured for much of its season. Losers of four straight, the sixth place Hawks were hunting for a win just as badly as the Jaspers. With little separating the two teams late in the game, Monmouth spearheaded a game-ending 10-2 run to escape Draddy with a 62-54 win.
Monmouth created separation early on when they launched an 8-0 run to jump out to a 10-2 lead by the 15:50 mark of the first half. Although down early, Manhattan stayed within striking distance of Monmouth for the entirety of the first stanza. Facing a 16-8 deficit, freshman Tykei Greene nailed a three to cut the Monmouth lead to five with 12:40 left in the half. A little over a minute later Greene executed again from behind the arc to trim Manhattan’s deficit to four.
Greene’s first half heroics were not done yet.
After a two and a half minute scoreless stretch from both sides, Greene added his third trifecta of the half to get his team to within one at 20-19.
The Hawks, however, remained aplomb despite Manhattan’s sustained pressure.
A minute after Greene’s dagger, the Hawks answered with back to back layups courtesy of Louis Pillari and Diago Quinn. The Jaspers would get as close as to within two three more times before Monmouth ignited a 6-0 run to close out the half with a 37-29 lead.
The obvious explanation for Manhattan’s eight point deficit at the half was the way they shot the ball. The Jaspers shot the ball at a 34.5 percent clip overall while only converting on 21.4 percent of their three point attempts. Conversely, Monmouth was able to translate their 56 percent shooting clip into a solid cushion at the break.
Backed by a boisterous crowd, Manhattan returned from the half time break cool, calm and collected.
Manhattan’s loud entrance into the second half hastily morphed their 37-29 hole into a 39-36 deficit by the 16:42 mark. Thanks to timely buckets from Monmouth’s dangerous backcourt mates Deion Hammond and Ray Salnave, the Hawks yet again rejected Manhattan’s comeback bid by opening up a 46-38 lead by the 14:30 mark.
In need of an energizer, up stepped freshman Elijah Buchanan.
After hitting one of two from the charity stripe at the 14:18 mark, Buchanan wreaked havoc two minutes later when he turned a steal into a basket. Samir Stewart then followed up Buchanan’s impressive play with a layup of his own to push the Jaspers to within three with 11:08 left in regulation.
The clutch gene of Manhattan’s freshmen was fully activated on this night.
Following in Greene and Buchanan’s footsteps, Stewart joined the clutch party when he drilled a three pointer to bring his flank to within one at 47-46 with 9:24 left to play. Less than a minute later, Manhattan was delightfully rewarded for their industrious comeback efforts when a Tyler Reynolds layup gave them their first lead of the night at the 8:52 mark.
Manhattan’s successful comeback attempt set the stage for an exciting finish.
Unfortunately for Manhattan fans, a three minute stretch of evenly played basketball eventually gave way to a forceful 10-2 run from Monmouth that would seal the victory for the Hawks. Monmouth drained six free throw attempts in the final four minutes of action to put the game to bed.
Hammond and Salnave starred for Monmouth by dropping 17 and 18 points, respectively. Salnave’s all-around impact was indicated by his final stat line with the sophomore redshirt falling a rebound and an assist shy of notching a triple double. Masiello cited the dominance of Salnave as the main reason why Monmouth left Draddy victorious.
“Ray was the difference tonight,” said Masiello. “I thought he dominated the game off the ball.”
As for Manhattan, freshman phenom Warren Williams led the Jaspers in scoring with 15 points to go along with eight rebounds. Friday night’s double-digit output from Williams represented a team-leading 13th game in double figures this season for the native of Jamaica.
“He’s a guy that’s going to keep getting better every time he takes the court,” said Masiello of Williams. “He’s a great kid and fun to coach.”
Speaking on the impending MAAC tournament, Masiello gave his unvarnished take on the state of the MAAC.
“I think this year more than ever it’s match-up driven,” said Masiello.”Certain match-ups are really good for us and others are a lot tougher.”
The Jaspers will certainly be keeping their eye on the results of other MAAC teams to see if the final days of the regular season bring about any changes to the current seedings. The MAAC tournament is set to take place from March 7-11 at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York.