by PETE JANNY, Sports and Managing Editor
Manhattan (7-6, 3-1 MAAC) hosted the Siena Saints (7-7, 3-2 MAAC) on Sunday afternoon for their first MAAC home game.
Manhattan was in need of a fresh start after a frustrating loss on the road at Fairfield on Friday night. Lack of scoring depth and difficulty rebounding led to Manhattan’s downfall against a Stags team that seems to be the definition of inconsistent. The Saints, on the other hand, figured to be a tough customer after starting MAAC play with a 3-1 record.
Unlike most performances this season, Manhattan had a strong first half to help them knock off the Saints by a score of 81-69. Manhattan’s fast start allowed them to go up by as many as 20 in the first half thanks in large part to 57.1 percent (20-of-35) shooting from the Jaspers and 11 turnovers for Siena in the first half. An 11-0 run in the second half positioned Manhattan with as high as a 26-point lead before Siena woke up and rattled off 16 unanswered themselves to make the game interesting. Manhattan allowed Siena to get as close as eight back three times before effectively sealing the win from the line with eight points from the charity stripe over the final three minutes of play.
Manhattan opened the scoring in this game on a 5-0 run thanks to a mid-range jumper by sophomore Elijah Buchanan and a three from the right corner by senior Tyler Reynolds on the team’s first two possessions. Manhattan’s hot shooting would continue with the Jaspers making four of their first seven shots to go up 9-5 following a finish from Hinckson down low at the 16:20 mark.
Siena’s introduction was less than flattering as the Saints only hit four of their first 13 shots. Luckily for them, Donald Carey showed up to play, scoring the first seven points for his team to keep Siena afloat. His jumper at 14:56 cut the Manhattan lead to 9-7.
The Manhattan guard play was rock solid right from the beginning as sophomore Samir Stewart and junior Nehemiah Mack found a rhythm early.
One three from Mack and two threes from Stewart fueled a 9-2 run that pushed Manhattan’s lead to 18-9 by the 12:44 mark and set the tone for a fruitful shooting half from long range as the Jaspers shot 53.8 percent (7-of-13) from three over the first 20 minutes of action. Additionally, both Mack and Stewart made smart decisions with the ball in the first half to help Manhattan finish the half with only three turnovers.
Although the team was having success from three, they also started to assert themselves down low.
Senior Pauly Paulicapp got in on the offensive fun with two adroit layups down low that sparked a stretch in which eight straight Manhattan points all came down in the paint. Sophomore Warren Williams, who had been shooting 61.5 percent (12-of-19) in MAAC play entering this game, capped off this stretch with a strong finish down low off a feed from Mack that made the score 26-17 by the 8:34 mark of the half.
The emergence of Reynolds in the first half was big for Manhattan’s offensive confidence.
After starting the game 1-for-6, Reynolds was able to regain his stroke on his way to scoring 13 points in the first half, the most of any Manhattan player. With his team up nine, Reynolds would account for 8 of Manhattan’s next 11 points, highlighted by two threes and a feed from Mack on a backdoor cut for an easy layup at 7:02 that made the score 37-22.
Down 15 points entering the stretch run of the first half, Siena’s vulnerability was more pronounced than ever when the Saints turned the ball over on four straight possessions at one point. The fourth and final turnover of this ugly stretch best epitomized Siena’s frustrations when Sammy Friday IV corralled a rebound off a missed jumper by Buchanan, and then inexplicably shuffled his feet before passing the ball. In total, Siena turned the ball over 18 times despite better focus in the second half. Their struggles taking care of the ball were an anomaly considering Siena had gone 39 straight games at one point with 15 turnovers or fewer before committing 17 giveaways against Harvard earlier this season.
With Siena in dire straits, Paulicap converted his last layup of the afternoon with 1:27 left in the first half that gave Manhattan their largest of the half at 44-24. Surprisingly, Paulicap would go on to struggle in the second half missing all six of his field-goal attempts without adding to his first-half total of six points. The 6-foot-10 senior had averaged 11.2 points-per-game and 6.3 rebounds-per-game over his last six games coming into this game.
One of the most encouraging signs for Manhattan was the way they shut down Siena sophomore Jaylen Pickett.
Pickett had entered this game as Siena’s leading scorer at 16.2 points-per-game, but was held scoreless in the first half on 0-of-4 shooting from the field. Coming off a 16-point performance in Thursday night’s win against St. Peter’s, Pickett looked lost in the first half and clearly overwhelmed by Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello’s game plan against him. His struggles were highlighted by a play early in the second half when Manhattan’s defensive pressure forced him into a backcourt violation for Siena’s 13th turnover of the game.
“A lot of prayer,” Masiello said jokingly when asked how his team was able to hold Pickett scoreless in the first half. “We didn’t want to give him anything easy and we wanted him to do things he’s not used to doing.”
Manhattan stretched their lead to as high as 26 thanks to an 11-0 run early in the opening stages of the second half. This run lasted a little less than two minutes and was characterized by three three-pointers, including two from versatile sophomore Christian Hinckson. Following an emphatic block by Williams on Camper on one end, Manhattan came down on the other end for Hinckson’s second three-pointer at the 11:28 mark of the second half that took the lead to 70-44.
In his second season in Riverdale, Hinckson has emerged as one of the team’s leaders. His ability to impact the game in multiple facets, whether by running the point or grabbing a big board, has made him a reliable presence at the most important junctures of games. He finished with 14 points and six rebounds, shooting 4-for-5 from the field and 4-for-6 from the line. For the second straight game, Hinckson stepped up his game in the second half. After scoring nine points in the second half against Fairfield on Friday night, Hinckson scored 12 points over the final 20 minutes of this game.
“He works hard and I’m proud of him,” Masiello said of Hinckson’s play of late. “I’m excited to see him continue to grow.”
As all good players do, Pickett finally woke up.
Pickett halted Manhattan’s exciting 11-0 run with five straight points that sparked an unforeseen 16-0 run for Siena over the course of the next eight minutes. Pickett scored all eight of his points during this stretch, including two threes.
Sienna junior Manny Camper also played a big role in Siena’s comeback attempt. He capped the 16-0 run with back-to-back layups off of explosive attacks to the hoop that cut the Siena deficit to 70-60 with 5:49 left. He finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, with 14 of his points coming in the second half as well as seven of his points coming from the line.
Manhattan’s scoreless stretch lasted eight minutes and finally ended with a Hinckson free throw with 3:21 left that put Manhattan up 11. It took even longer for Manhattan to convert on a field goal attempt, but they finally hit one when Stewart drained a big three at the two-minute mark of regulation that made the score 74-63 and effectively crushed any hope Siena had of coming back. The Saints would get as close as eight back two more times over the final three minutes before Manhattan put the game to bed with seven makes from the line over the final minute of regulation. Stewart contributed four of those seven makes from the line, with Hinckson accounting for the other three.
“I’m really proud of our guys for their resolve and ability to turn around after a disappointing road loss at Fairfield,” Masiello said after his team improved to 3-1 in MAAC play.
On the other side of things, Siena head coach Carmen Maciarello was not pleased with his team’s performance.
“We played four minutes of Siena basketball tonight,” said a disappointed Maciarello after the game, alluding to his team’s 16-0 run.
Besides Camper, the two other Siena players to finish in double digits were Donald Carey and Gary Harris Jr., who finished with 10 and 11 points, respectively. Additionally, Carey had the indignity of leading his team in turnovers with five.
Reynolds led Manhattan in scoring with 16 points on 4-for-12 shooting from deep. Despite his good game overall, Reynolds only scored three points in the second half. Stewart scored 15, Hinckson had 14, and Buchanan added 10 to round out the list of double-figure scorers for Manhattan.
After scoring only two points against Fairfield, Buchanan looked more like his normal self against Siena. He did most of his damage from mid range on his 5-of-10 shooting and also registered six rebounds.
“I thought I let my teammates down against Fairfield,” Buchanan said when assessing his response against Siena. “I just told myself to attack the rim more today,”
Manhattan finished the game at 50.8 percent (3-of-59) from the field, including 48 percent (12-of-25) from three.
According to Masiello, sophomore Tykei Greene, who missed the last two games, is listed as day-to-day and has a good chance of playing on Thursday when Manhattan welcomes Quinnipiac (9-5, 4-0 MAAC) to Draddy for a 7 PM start.
“It’s a minor strain and he should be back Thursday,” Masiello said.