By PETE JANNY, Sports and Managing Editor
Coming off a frustrating loss to Western Michigan, Manhattan (4-5) made the trip out to Hempstead, New York on Sunday, December 22 to conclude their non-conference slate of games against the formidable Hofstra Pride (9-4).
A loss always stings, but to come as close to victory as Manhattan was against Western Michigan and instead lose was a tough pill to swallow. In the end, however, Manhattan needed to realize there was very little they could’ve done to change the outcome. Jared Printy’s go-ahead three pointer with four seconds left to win it for Western Michigan was guarded as solidly as possible by Manhattan; his offense was just slightly better. With all of that now history, it remained to be seen if any aftereffects from that heartbreak were going to carry over into Sunday’s tilt with Hofstra.
Despite the competitiveness of Western Michigan, the Pride represented an even tougher test for Manhattan. Hofstra, the preseason favorites in the Colonial Athletic Association, have enjoyed a fine season up to this point that has been highlighted by an improbable win on the road against UCLA back in November. The Pride are also especially difficult to beat at home. Entering this matchup, Manhattan was hoping to hand Hofstra only their seventh loss at home since the start of the 2017-18 season. Overall, Hofstra has gone 27-6 over that span.
In what was an overall competitive game between the two teams, Hofstra used their star power to propel them to a 63-51 victory. Hofstra’s primary weapons showed up to play with Desure Buie, Eli Pemberton, and Isaac Kante combining for 52 points in the home team’s win. After digging themselves in a 37-25 hole at the half, Manhattan turned in a respectable second half performance that forced Hofstra to have to stave off a comeback attempt from the resilient Jaspers. Manhattan was able to get as close as four back with 13:50 left, but Hofstra never panicked during pressure moments, finding a way to grow their lead to as high as 13 in the ensuing minutes en route to victory. Despite suffering the loss, Manhattan can at the very minimum be thankful for what sophomore Tykei Greene showed today. If not for Greene’s 25 points, Manhattan may have very well been run out of the gym by the Pride. Manhattan’s offensive limitations on this day were highlighted by the fact that the only other Manhattan player in double figures was Pauly Paulicap who finished with 13 points.
Right from the outset, Greene reminded everyone of just how good he can be. He opened the scoring 30 seconds in with an unassisted three pointer that gave Manhattan an early 3-0 lead and set the tone for his big day.
Although Greene stole most of the spotlight with his play, enough can’t be said about how sharp Paulicap looked, particularly early on. Following Greene’s opening three, Paulicap took control for Manhattan, scoring his team’s next three baskets by imposing his physicality down low. The third and final layup of his personal 6-0 run gave Manhattan a 9-6 lead at the 16:21 mark of the first half.
A strong start to this game by Manhattan is why it took the Pride almost six minutes just to claim their first lead of the night. After a made jumper by Manhattan’s Nehemiah Mack upped the Jaspers’ lead to 11-9, Buie made his presence felt with a three at the 14:23 mark that handed the Pride their first lead at 12-11. The Pride would then run their lead to 14-11 courtesy of a smooth jumper from Pemberton at 12:38. Unfortunately for Manhattan, Buie and Pemberton stayed lethal on the offensive end the rest of the way.
Manhattan then countered with a 5-0 run that allowed them to take a 16-14 lead. One of Manhattan’s best highlights on the afternoon came during this stretch when sophomore Elijah Buchanan attacked the hoop from the right side for a vicious one-handed slam that cut the deficit to 14-13. On the very next possession, Greene positioned himself in the same spot he hit his first three and proceeded to knock down another one to give Manhattan a two-point cushion.
Having already made his presence felt on offense, Paulicap also wanted to show off his defensive prowess.
After a jumper from Hofstra’s Kante knotted up the score at 16 apiece, the home team’s next offensive possession was quickly terminated thanks to a violent block from Paulicap on a play in which he and Stafford Truehart came face-to-face above the rim. The play elicited noisy reactions from the crowd and was without a doubt a lasting memory from this game. To cap off the excitement, Paulicap then executed a layup on the other end to put the Jaspers back on top 18-16 in this back-and-forth affair. However, this would end up being Manhattan’s last lead of the night as Pemberton responded with five straight points via a three-pointer and one of his signature mid-range jumpers that ignited an 11-0 Hofstra run to give the home team some breathing room up 27-18.
Hofstra was able to parlay their effective play over the closing stages of the first half into a 37-25 halftime lead. In all likelihood, the Hofstra lead would’ve been even larger if not for seven points from Greene over the final four and a half minutes of the first half that kept Manhattan afloat. In fact, if not for a three pointer by Hofstra’s Stafford with two seconds left, Manhattan would’ve entered the break with a single-digit deficit. As poorly as they finished the half, Manhattan was far from out of it. Looking back, Masiello wishes his team would have done more to prevent Stafford from hitting that three at the end of the first half.
“We just need to be a bit sharper and show more urgency in that situation,” Masiello said. “That’s just us not being engaged and ready to play.”
Out of the break, each team missed their first four shots. Manhattan’s sluggish start was particularly concerning as the Jaspers missed a few close shots that would’ve put a dent in the Hofstra lead. Manhattan would finally snap out of their funk with a layup from Paulicap and a fastbreak layup from sophomore Samir Stewart off a Hofstra turnover that curtailed the deficit to 37-29 at the 17:01 mark of the second half. In need of a basket themselves, Hofstra finally got on the board in the second half when Kante connected on a mid-range jumper at 16:33 that pushed the Hofstra lead back to 10.
Manhattan still refused to quit. The Jaspers were able to get to within four by the 13:50 mark thanks to yet another powerful finish down low from Paulicap and a rare three from sophomore Christian Hinckson.
The next six minutes played a big role in determining the outcome. While Manhattan went scoreless over these six minutes, the Pride unleashed a devastating 9-0 run that stretched their lead to an insurmountable 13 points. Kante put the finishing touches on this run with a layup at 7:51 that left Manhattan in dire straits down 50-37.
The closest Manhattan would get again was eight back on three separate occasions. The first two times each came by way of a three pointer from Greene at 4:49 and 3:53 that made him 5-for-5 from downtown on the afternoon. The last three minutes proved to be an afterthought as Hofstra cruised to the finish. After the game, head coach Steve Masiello gave some insight into why Greene was able to bounce back after a few subpar performances in recent games.
“He’s got to learn that when you’re the leading scorer coming off a few good games, teams are going to scout you,” Masiello said about Greene’s recent struggles prior to this breakthrough performance. “How you score when scouting is involved is much different than when the other team doesn’t play to your tendencies.”
Pemberton and Buie led the way for Hofstra with 19 points apiece, while Kante posted 14 points and 11 rebounds on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the field. Outside of those three players, Hofstra shot just 3-for-16 from the field for a modest 11 points. This obvious lack of scoring depth for Hofstra could have played a factor in the final outcome had Manhattan done a better job slowing down those three guys.
Manhattan’s own lack of scoring depth was a big reason why they couldn’t pull off the upset on the road. Besides Greene’s career-high 25 and Paulicap’s 13, the next leading scorers were Buchannan and Stewart who each had four points. Buchanan’s struggles were especially surprising, coming off a performance against Western Michigan in which he tallied a career-high 18 points.
At the end of non-conference play, the Jaspers sit with a solid 4-5 record. Manhattan will now take a few days off for the holidays to recharge their battery before getting back together just prior to the new year to prepare for the commencement of the MAAC season. Manhattan’s foray into the MAAC season will come as part of a road trip to Western New York where the team will play at Canisius on Friday, January 3rd before playing at Niagara two days later on the 5th.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do but we’re going to take a little break now,” Masiello said. “Then we’re going to come back together at the end of the month to prepare for a Buffalo trip that every team in this league knows is extremely difficult.”