by JOHN JACKSON, Senior Writer
FIRST ROUND MBB: MAN 57, FAIR 53
QUARTERFINALS MBB: MAN 65, CAN 69
The No. 7 Manhattan College Jaspers saw their season come to an end on Friday, March 8 as they fell in overtime to the No. 2 Canisius College Golden Griffins by a score of 69-65 in the Quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament.
The Jaspers advanced to the Quarterfinals thanks to a 57-53 victory over the No. 10 Fairfield Stags in the First Round of the tournament a day prior.
The Jaspers missed out on a first-round bye in the tournament after finishing seventh in the MAAC during the regular season with an 11-21 overall record and an 8-10 conference record. That set the stage for them and the Stags on the first day of the tournament.
Manhattan and Fairfield played a close game through and through.
“I thought it was a game of two very young teams who just kind of battled and really did a great job competing,” head coach Steve Masiello said following the First Round victory.
Manhattan scored the first points of the game as freshman Christian Hinckson connected on a three-pointer. The Jaspers then stayed tied or in the lead for just over the first four minutes of the game.
Fairfield took things over at the 15:55 mark as senior Matija Milin sunk a three to put the Stags up 10-7. The Stags followed that up with 7-2 run to take an eight-point, 17-9 lead; their largest of the game.
Manhattan refused to let things get out of hand and fought back for the rest of the half. Sophomore Ebube Ebube contributed five points, three rebounds, and one block while Hinckson had six points and one rebound during the remaining 13:50 of the half to keep the Jaspers close.
The Jaspers and Stags traded blow for blow throughout the entirety of the first half as evident in five tied scores and five score changes. However, it was Fairfield that came out on top by halftime as they held onto a slim 33-30 lead.
Fairfield could really have separated themselves from Manhattan in the first half if it were not for foul trouble in which multiple Jaspers took advantage. The Jaspers were sent to the line for 17 free throw opportunities. They shot a season-high 82.4 percent (14-of-17) in the first half, while only allowing the Stags two free throw opportunities. Overall on the game they shot 79.2 percent (19-of-24) compared to the Stags’ 62.5 percent (10-of-16).
“When you get to tournament time, I’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of them, and the teams that establish identity in the paint early, normally have success,” Masiello said. “If you’re relying on perimeter touches and perimeter shots, it could get a little dangerous because the game’s played a lot more to half court in tournament time. So I thought we were able to, kind of like a fight, wear them down a little bit.”
Manhattan came out of the half hot as they started things off by going on a 6-0 run within the first two minutes. Fairfield followed that up with a 6-0 run of their own within less than a minute and a half.
Similarly to the first half, both teams played a close game in the second half as the score was both tied up three times and changed on three occasions. Fairfield only led by as much as three points during the half, while Manhattan only led by as much as four.
The game truly did come down to the wire as Manhattan led by a mere two points with 0:55 seconds left to go in the game. Although Hinckson missed a jumper, a defensive board by Ebube forced the Stags to foul. They did, and that brought freshman Samir Stewart to the line for two shots. He made them both to solidify the Jaspers’ 57-53 victory over the Stags.
Hinckson shined in the victory as he tied his career high in points with 11 by halftime and ended the game with a new career-high of 16 points.
“Just before the game, coach told me to just play with confidence,” said Hinckson. “So I did that and it worked out well.”
Manhattan fell to Fairfield a few weeks prior when they loss 72-59 on Feb. 24 at the Stags’ home court. This time they refused to let it happen again.
“We really just buckled down,” said freshman Warren Williams, who finished with 10 points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal. “I think the second game [against Fairfield on Feb. 24] we weren’t really focused. This game we really came into the game believing that we’re going to win.”
Following the Jaspers’ victory, the team had a difficult task ahead of them. They had 24 hours before taking on the Golden Griffins whose 11-7 conference record provided them with a first-round bye.
Shortly after the two teams tipped off at 9:32 p.m. on Mar. 8, it appeared as if the large mountain that the Jaspers had to climb was actually just a flat plain.
Before three minutes elapsed, the Jaspers already built an 8-2 lead thanks to five points from Williams and a three-pointer from Stewart. Even when Canisius responded, the Jaspers continued to attack back. With 7:10 remaining in the half, Williams completed a three-point play to put the Jaspers up 22-11 and give them an 11-point lead.
Even after some back-and-forth scoring by both teams, Manhattan still held an 11-point advantage with 5:24 left in the half.
Over the next four minutes, the Golden Griffins had their most dominant stretch of the half as they went on a 9-0 run to cut the Jaspers’ lead to two. However, Williams and Stewart combined for five points in the final 45 seconds of the half to put the Jaspers up 32-25 at halftime.
Williams contributed mightily to Manhattan’s effort as he scored half of the team’s 32 first-half points.
The Jaspers came out of the half strongly as they built a game-high 12-point lead in the first 1:07 of play. From there the Golden Griffins used the large majority of the second half to progressively chip away at the Jaspers’ double-digit lead.
By the 3:50 mark, Canisius cut Manhattan’s lead to 54-53 as sophomore Jalanni White’s dunk brought the Golden Griffins to within one. Both teams responded to each other’s scoring over the next 2:49, but after Williams missed one of his two free throws at the 1:01 mark, it opened an opportunity for Canisius to tie. They did exactly that, as sophomore Takal Molson followed through on a layup in the paint with 43 seconds on the clock.
Molson later fouled freshman Tykei Greene and sent him to the line for two shots with 15 seconds left. He missed both shots which gave Canisius time to end things with a basket. However, junior Malik Johnson missed a three-pointer and Manhattan regained possession.
With 2.7 seconds left, Stewart passed half court with an open lane, but stopped as Manhattan called a timeout. By the time the officials granted the timeout, there were 0.7 seconds on the clock. That was not a sufficient amount of time left for a good shot attempt after Greene inbounded the ball. Therefore, at 11:38 p.m., the two quarterfinalist teams would have the fate of their seasons decided over five more minutes of basketball.
Senior Jibreel Faulkner gave the Golden Griffins the first points of overtime with a layup in the paint. Although sophomore Nehemiah Mack gave the Jaspers a brief 60-59 lead with a three-pointer just 16 seconds later, Faulkner basically all-but-ended the Jaspers’ season with two consecutive three-pointers. The Golden Griffins handled them over the next 2:45 of overtime to move onto the MAAC Semifinals.
“First of all Manhattan gave up a brilliant effort and they did the first time we played them as well,” Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said following the game. “Very difficult team to prepare for, and this was a really hard-fought game. Plenty of ups and downs. So I credit them.”
After putting up 10 points the night before, Williams followed that up with a career-high 27 points against Canisius. As impressive as it was to notch a milestone like that during conference play, Williams was more focused on his team and preparing for next season.
“I think it’s encouraging,” Williams said when asked about his performance. “It really doesn’t matter to me right now. Just got to get back to work and just use this as a motivation.”
Despite the loss, Masiello was proud of how his student-athletes fought and conducted themselves.
“I thought our guys really competed and battled, and represented our college, and represented themselves and the program in a great way,” Masiello said following the loss.
Masiello came into the 2018-2019 season without some of his key contributors from past years as Zane Waterman, Rich Williams, Calvin Crawford and Zavier Turner all graduated. He had the challenge of coaching a very young team, but instead of looking at it as a challenge, he viewed it as a pleasure.
“This team has been a lot of fun to coach,” Masiello said. “A lot of growing pains, a lot of ups and downs, but a fun group.”
The Jaspers have a young team as Thomas Capuano, Samson Usilo and Matt Maloney were the only seniors and Ibrahima Diallo was the only graduate student. Barring any transfers, all their primary starters are set to return next season. Furthermore, junior Pauly Paulicap, the 2017-2018 MAAC Defensive Player of the Year, will be returning from injury. With all those points considered, the future is bright for the Jaspers.