by PETE JANNY, Sports & Managing Editor
The Manhattan College women’s basketball team (3-5) entered Friday night’s meeting with Army (3-7) looking to bounce back after a disappointing performance last week in a 51-45 loss to Fordham. This game provided Manhattan one last opportunity to fine-tune their game with the team’s MAAC opener set for Tuesday night at Monmouth.
Manhattan was clearly not bothered by the adversity that had hovered over them for the past week as the team rolled to an 86-56 win. Getting off to a good start was key for Manhattan in this game as they were able to get to the halftime break with a 47-24 lead. Despite their poor first half performance, Army came out of the break looking rejuvenated, however, the Manhattan offense would eventually get hot again on its way to victory.
The game started off with some excitement for the home team when senior guard Gabby Cajou intercepted an errant pass and proceeded to take the rock all the way for an easy layup to give Manhattan a 2-0 lead. The steal ended up being the first of five in total on the night for Cajou.
The next few possessions were dictated by Army with the visitors putting together a 7-0 run that gave them a 7-2 lead with two and a half minutes gone by in the opening quarter.
In need of a spark, Manhattan turned to junior guard Lynette Taitt.
Taitt was able to get herself in a groove early, converting a layup and a mid-range jumper that trimmed the Manhattan deficit to 9-6. Taitt, who finished with a team-high 14 points, attributed her success to her team’s offensive cohesion and chemistry.
“My teammates got me the ball and we just had a better flow tonight on offense,” Taitt said postgame.
The closing minutes of the first quarter was when both teams started to trend in opposite directions. After a three-pointer from Alisa Fallon gave Army a 14-10 lead, Manhattan took their game to an elite level, finishing off the final four minutes of the quarter on a 17-0 run. The quarter ended with an electric buzzer beater by Cajou whose prayer from just past half court banked off the backboard and in to send Draddy Gymnasium into a frenzy. What stood out the most from this offensive onslaught was the fact that six different players contributed to the scoring.
“We’re not looking for one person to score 30 points,” head coach Heather Vulin said regarding her team’s balanced scoring. “Ideally we’d love to have four or five players in double figures.”
Manhattan’s domination continued into the second quarter as the team took advantage of every opportunity they got to shred apart the Army defense. By the time Taitt finished off a fast-break layup off an Army turnover with 38 seconds left, the Manhattan lead had proliferated to 23 at 45-22. Army’s downfall was the result of lockdown defensive play from Manhattan that forced the Mules into 4-for-13 shooting (30.8%) in the second quarter.
The opening minutes of the third quarter were an anomaly in this game with the Mules managing to rattle off 10 straight points. Army’s Hope Brown led the charge for her team during this improbable surge, accounting for seven of the 10 points. By the time Brown converted her last layup of the run at 4:52, the Manhattan lead was suddenly creeping back down towards single digits at 47-36.
“I felt our defense allowed them to get to the rim,” Vulin said about her team’s slow start to the third quarter. “Besides the third quarter, I thought that was the best game we played all year.”
Unsurprisingly, it was Taitt who delivered back-to-back timely baskets for Manhattan that quelled Army’s momentum. Her first basket came off a layup at 4:35 and her next one came in the form of a mid-range jumper on the very next possession. From there, Manhattan began to regain their prowess, closing the third quarter with a 59-43 lead.
The fourth quarter featured more of the same with the Jaspers out-scoring the Mules 27-13 over the final ten minutes of play. Back-to-back layups from senior Pam Miceus at 4:53 and 4:02, respectively, helped put the icing on the cake for Manhattan. According to Vulin, Miceus has been a key part of the program ever since she walked on as a sophomore.
“Pam has a very valuable role for us. She seems to always use her athleticism and her energy to give us a spark… She’s also an engineer and so far she’s been crushing her finals so she’s just been having a great week overall,” Vulin said of Miceus, who finished with eight points and four rebounds on four-for-seven shooting.
Taitt paced Manhattan in scoring with 14 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists. Freshman Emily LaPointe and sophomore Sydney Watkins were the other two Manhattan players who finished in double digits with 12 points each. In addition to her eight points, Cajou registered four steals. Army was best represented by sophomore Lindsey Scamman who contributed 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Vulin was pleased with the energy and aggression her team brought tonight, especially on the defensive end.
“I was really proud of the girls tonight and I thought they were locked into the defensive gameplan,” Vulin said. “I thought our press was the difference maker in tonight’s game.”
On top of narrowly out-rebounding Army 41-39, Manhattan also took care of the ball very well, only coughing it up eight times as opposed to the 23 turnovers they forced. With rebounding and ball security being two of her core principles, Vulin was happy about her team’s success in those two areas.
“This has been our best year since I’ve been here in terms of taking care of the ball,” Vulin said. “If we can now just consistently rebound on top of all the things we’re getting better at then I think we will start to win more games.”
With regards to Manhattan’s MAAC opener this coming Tuesday at Monmouth (2-5), Taitt believes her and her teammates are ready for what’s to come in league play.
“I think the team is very excited so we just got to go in with a good mindset in order to be successful,” Taitt said.