Manhattan Loses a Heartbreaker to Western Michigan

Manhattan (4-4) hosted Western Michigan (6-5)  on Saturday night with hopes of continuing their winning ways. Although the game didn’t have the same magnitude as last week’s thrilling 54-53 overtime win at Fordham, every game this time of year helps prepare for the impending MAAC season. 

Whereas the Jaspers were able to win a closely contested game last time out, the end result was different on Saturday with Manhattan losing to Western Michigan 59-58 in what turned out to be a nail-biter. Manhattan was unable to protect a 30-24 halftime lead thanks to a three pointer from Jared Printy with four seconds left that clinched the victory for his team. 

Manhattan got off to a slow start in this game as they missed their first four shots and committed four turnovers by the time four minutes had elapsed. The Jaspers wouldn’t get on the board until the 16:12 mark when sophomore Christian Hinckson nailed a mid-range jumper to put the home team up 2-1. Nevertheless, Western Michigan’s first few minutes at Draddy Gymnasium was probably even worse than Manhattan’s introduction with the visitors only scoring one point by way of the free throw line before Hinckson’s opening basket. The Broncos missed their first five shots of the game. 

The first half was classic Manhattan basketball at its finest. With their offense not functioning properly, the Jaspers prioritized playing the type of aggressive and disruptive defense that has come to define them. In a first half that featured eight lead changes, Manhattan limited Western Michigan to 24 percent shooting. 

Despite an overall disappointing first half of play, the Manhattan offense still showed some signs of potential. 

An obvious positive was the continued aggressiveness of budding sophomore Elijah Buchanan. Not only did Buchanan already have a game-high ten points under his belt at the break, but his points seemed to come at timely junctures for Manhattan over the course of the first half. First, with the game tied at seven apiece, Buchanan displayed the offensive confidence he’s been playing with all season when he attacked the hoop and secured an and-one, leading to a 10-7 lead for Manhattan. Then, with Manhattan down 13-12, Buchanan stepped up again for his team, hitting a three pointer at the 9:11 mark that grabbed another lead for the Kelly Green & White. Still, Buchanan’s first-half impact would not end there. With three minutes left in the half and his team down 24-18, the Bronx native responded with a three and a free throw that ignited a 12-0 scoring run in which a six-point deficit transformed into six-point lead at the half for Manhattan. 

Three-point specialist Tyler Reynolds attempts a three during Manhattan’s game against Western Michigan. GOJASPERS/COURTESY

Two of the more exciting plays of the half for Manhattan came from the program’s Harcum College pipeline. 

Junior Michael Okafor and senior Tyler Reynolds, two of three players on Manhattan that have transferred in from Harcum College, each did their part to energize the Manhattan faithful in attendance. Okafor, who only played four minutes, made the most of his quick appearance when at the 11:30 mark of the first half he cleaned up a missed jumper by Buchanan with a vicious putback dunk that infused excitement into the crowd. As for Reynolds, his notable contribution in the half was a rainbow three pointer from the right corner with two seconds left that capped off the 12-0 scoring run.

One clear advantage that Western Michigan had in the first half was their ability to get the free throw line early and often. The Broncos finished the half with a staggering 21 free throw attempts, however, only ten of them fell through. The Broncos’ shortcomings from the line is what allowed Manhattan to build up a six-point lead at the break. 

The opening stages of the second half didn’t go according to play for Manhattan as the Jaspers quickly surrendered their six-point lead. While Manhattan opened up the half missing seven of their first eight shots, Western Michigan played like a new team with the visitors unleashing a 15-3 run over the first six and a half minutes to go up 39-33.

Western Michigan’s valiant resurgence was fueled in large part by the efforts of junior Brandon Johnson. His mid-range game gave Manhattan fits in the second half on his way to 11 points for the half. By the time Johnson notched his fourth basket of the half at 11:22, Western Michigan had their largest lead of the game at 43-36.

As Western Michigan threatened to pull away, Manhattan responded with a big 7-0 run that allowed them to take a 44-43 lead following a finish down low from senior Pauli Paulicap at 8:28. From there, Manhattan would proceed to surrender the lead, but were able to keep it a one-possession game for the next seven minutes thanks to multiple big men accounting for Manhattan’s next 11 points. These points came by way of two slick layups from the 6-foot-8 Paulicap, one layup from 6-foot-7 Christian Hinckson, and two layups from 6-foot-9 Warren Williams. The second of Williams’s pair of layups came on a strong move in the paint that cut Manhattan’s deficit to 56-55 with 1:04 remaining in regulation. This stretch of dominance from Manhattan’s big men was an encouraging sight for a team that has failed to receive consistent production from its tallest players. 

Down by one heading into the last minute of play, Manhattan needed one big play to give themselves a chance at victory. That clutch play did indeed come with Buchanan attacking the rim for a timely and-one with 15 seconds left that resulted in a 58-56 lead for Manhattan following his made free throw. Equipped with a lead, all Manhattan needed was one last defensive stop to win this game. Unfortunately, Jared Printy and Western Michigan would get the last laugh with Printy burying a contested three with four seconds left for the win. Coming out of the timeout, Manhattan was unable to execute the final play they drew up, forcing Hinckson instead to throw up a desperation shot that was blocked to end the game. 

Manhattan held a slim advantage in the shooting department with a 39 percent clip as opposed to Western Michigan’s 37 percent clip. A contributing factor to Manhattan’s loss was their lack of ball security. Western Michigan forced the Jaspers into 20 turnovers while only turning the ball over 11 times themselves. 

Buchanan scored a career-high 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds to lead the Manhattan offense. In addition, Williams showed flashes of his elite talent, scoring nine points and collecting seven rebounds. Thanks to an active second half, Paulicap finished with eight points and four rebounds. 

Western Michigan’s offensive game plan revolved around Brandon Johnson and Michael Flowers who each scored 15 points to lead the way for the Broncos. Johnson’s impact on this game extended past his scoring contributions as he also contributed 11 rebounds. Flowers made his presence felt from beyond the arc, sinking three of his team’s five three-point makes on the night.

Although disappointed with the final scoreline, head coach Steve Masiello didn’t fail to notice the usual resilience of his team. 

“I’m always very proud of our effort,” Masiello said after the game.

The biggest mystery of the night was sophomore point guard Samir Stewart’s absence from this game. Stewart, who is a normal fixture in the starting lineup, was dressed for this game but didn’t see action. When asked about Stewart’s status postgame, Masiello elected not to share too much information. 

“He didn’t play,” Masiello said. “He’s listed as day-to-day.” 

Whether Stewart will be ready or not, Manhattan is set to play next at Hofstra (7-4) on Sunday, December 22 with tip-off slated for noon. The team will then turn its attention to Canisius (5-4) who they will face on the road to open MAAC play on Friday, January 3rd at 7 PM.