by Pete Janny & Whit Anderson, Sports Editor & Contributor
MBB: Manhattan 69, QUINNIPIAC 57
MBB: MANHATTAN 65,MONMOUTH 58
The Manhattan College men’s basketball team (8-7, 4-2 MAAC) looked to continue their winning ways after starting off 3-1 in MAAC play. After protecting home court last Sunday against Siena, Manhattan had a chance to add to their early success in the MAAC season with big home matchups against Quinnipiac (9-7, 4-2 MAAC) and Monmouth (10-7, 4-2 MAAC) on Thursday and Saturday night, respectively.
While Manhattan looked like legitimate favorites to win the MAAC in their 69-57 win over Quinnipiac on Thursday night, they were plagued by inconsistency in their 65-58 loss to Monmouth two days later. The rollercoaster of emotions felt by Manhattan across the two games is the byproduct of the extreme parity in the MAAC this year as three teams, including Manhattan, are now tied atop the standings. By splitting these two games, Manhattan moved to 4-2 in MAAC play while giving their fans a glimpse of just how good they can be.
On Thursday night, Quinnipiac came out of the gate flat and Manhattan made sure to capitalize on the visitors’ early shooting rust and poor decision-making. A 12-0 scoring run by Manhattan and eight Quinnipiac turnovers in the first half allowed the Jaspers to take control of this game. The Bobcats got within four multiple times, but Manhattan was able to come up with timely points when they needed them the most. The Jaspers either led or were tied for all but four minutes of this game.
Manhattan did not have the best shooting start to this game, connecting on only three of their first 14 shots from the field, but it did not disrupt their composure. Instead, Manhattan decided to work hard for defensive stops, while knowing that the offense would eventually find its rhythm.
The opening eight minutes featured six lead changes, suggesting that this was going to be a tight game all the way through. However, one early and interesting development was Manhattan’s early aggressiveness down low that hinted at bigger things to come for the offense. Unsurprisingly, it was the effervescence of senior Pauly Paulicap on every possession that sparked new life for a Manhattan team that was missing a lot of easy shots early. 10 of Manhattan’s first 12 points in this game came in the paint, with Paulicap asserting himself down low early with two strong finishes. After a three-pointer from Matt Balanc, a strong layup by Paulicap on a second-chance opportunity tied the game and helped set in motion a 12-0 run that gave Manhattan a 22-12 lead.
A short while later, Paulicap made his loudest impact, both literally and figuratively, when he emphatically swatted a shot by Quinnipiac’s Kevin Varfo on the defensive end that led to a three from junior Nehemiah Mack on the other end. Paulicap’s seemingly unlimited energy on display is one of the reasons why he is adored by Manhattan fans with his competitive fury never more palpable than when he hits the deck in pursuit of loose balls. He finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, but his impact goes far beyond the box score as he held Varfo to only nine points.
The emergence of Samir Stewart in this game would prove to make life even more difficult for the Bobcats.
After missing his first two three-point attempts on the night, Stewart started to come alive, leading to a stellar performance. His eight points over the final four plus minutes of the first half helped position Manhattan with a 32-27 lead at the break. Luckily for the Bobcats, a pair of threes by Aaron Falzon in the closing minutes kept the visitors in striking distance.
Out of the break, Buchanan’s offensive versatility was on full display as he scored seven points in the opening minute of the second half.
Thirty seconds in, Buchanan attacked the hoop from the left side for a vicious two-handed throwdown in which he clung on to the rim for an extra second just for good measure. On Manhattan’s very next possession, Buchanan converted again, but this time via one of his signature mid-range jumpers that gave Manhattan some breathing room at 36-29. He finished his impressive spurt of play with a make from just inside the three-point line that pushed the lead back to seven and set the stage for a valiant second-half performance for the Jaspers.
Quinnipiac was able to keep it close thanks to the shooting of Balanc. He provided a much-needed 13 points for his team on a night where most of his other teammates did not step up. If it was not Balanc scoring for the Bobcats, then it was most likely Falzon who paced the Bobcats with 15 points. The efforts of both players still was not enough to make up for their offensive woes. Masiello was impressed with the way his team contained impact players such as Rich Kelly and Jacob Rigoni. Both players combined for nine points on 2-of-9 shooting.
“I thought our guys did a terrific job understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their personnel,” Masiello said after his team forced Quinnipiac into 15 turnovers and only turned the ball over six times themselves. “I was really pleased with the way we shared and valued the basketball tonight.”
The dagger for Manhattan came with 1:23 left in regulation on a Christian Hinckson jumper that capped off his near triple-double performance. Hinckson finished with nine points, nine assists, nine rebounds, and three steals. Stewart paced the team in scoring with 20 points.
The Jaspers did not have too much time to celebrate after Thursday night, as they were set to host Monmouth just two days later.
Manhattan had great defensive intensity in introducing themselves to Monmouth, forcing the Hawks to commit eight turnovers over the first ten minutes of play. That, combined with six Jaspers getting on the scoreboard early, led to a 20-14 Manhattan advantage midway through the first half.
Manhattan’s strong start was mostly due to the efforts of sophomore Warren Williams.
Williams established his presence in the post and led the way offensively. He got off to a good start with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. Williams made his presence felt the most with 8:29 left in the first half when he threw down a powerful two-handed dunk that put Manhattan ahead 20-12, their largest lead of the half. Williams seems to be coming around now after having a few quiet games earlier in the season.
Unfortunately for the Jaspers, the momentum swung the other way once they stopped feeding Wiliams consistently.
The Hawks went on a quick 9-1 run to tie the game up at 21. Monmouth’s ability to get back in the game was influenced by a poor 1-of-9 shooting start from deep for the Jaspers, along with 10 huge points from Hawks’ guard Marcus McClary. After proceeding to take the lead, Monmouth would go on to increase their advantage to 30-24 after a pair of free throws from George Papas capped off a critical 18-4 run that changed the complexion of the game. Monmouth was able to keep the ball on the perimeter during this stretch by forcing the Jaspers into shooting many jumpers on a night where they could not find the range. The half ended 32-29 in the Hawks’ favor.
The start of the second half was rough for Manhattan, as two careless turnovers led to consecutive transition layups for Monmouth as the game looked to be getting away from the Jaspers. Manhattan would fall behind 46-34 with 12:36 left, their largest deficit of the night.
At this point, there were signs of a potential blowout. However, the Jaspers stuck around thanks in large part to the scoring ability of Elijah Buchanan.
Manhattan would tie things up at 53 apiece and even take a brief lead at 56-55 after a three from Buchanan in front of the Manhattan bench with 4:25 left in regulation. He had 10 points in the final seven plus minutes to make things exciting down the stretch and wound up finishing with 16 points along with eight rebounds.
Unfortunately for Manhattan, a retaliatory three by Monmouth ignited a 10-0 run in which Hammond and Salnave accounted for all ten points. The Jaspers simply failed to get enough stops on the defensive end.
Salnave and Hammond finished the night with 16 points apiece on a combined 6-of-9 shooting from three. Salnave had 13 points and Hammond had 11 over the final 20 minutes of play.
To complement Buchanan’s performance, Williams provided a nice boost off the bench with 12 points on an efficient 4-of-6 shooting. Tykei Greene returned to the lineup after missing the previous three games, but only scored one point on 0-of-5 shooting in 12 minutes of action.
“I thought our young men showed great toughness and great resolve, but hats off to Monmouth for winning a very hard-fought game,” Masiello said after the game.
Manhattan has learned a lot about themselves through six conference games. One interesting characteristic about this team is the relative unpredictability in terms of who will step up in the scoring department. Greene leads the team in scoring with 12.1 points-per-game, however, his recent absence has forced other players to step up with there being a different leading scorer in each of the last four games.
Two players in particular who have been heavily relied upon as of late are Stewart and Buchanan. After combining to score five points on 2-of-13 shooting at Fairfield on January 10th, both players bounced back nicely during this homestand as each took turns leading the team in scoring over these past two games.
Watching Stewart blossom into a bona fide leader this year has been a unique situation for Masiello, given Stewart’s youth. Masiello is the first to admit that despite the fruitful results of Stewart’s development under his tutelage, the special bond between them did not just suddenly develop overnight.
“I’ve never trusted someone so young,” Masiello said of Stewart after the Quinnipiac game. “We spent this offseason working on our relationship. It’s about me being an extension of him by knowing what he’s thinking, seeing, and feeling and that’s a two-way street.”
As for Stewart, he has been able to embrace a prominent leadership role this season thanks to the indomitable spirit of trust at the foundation of the program.
“I believe in trust with the coaching staff and trust with my teammates,” Stewart said after the Quinnipiac game. “We’ve grown to know each other both on the court and off it and I think it’s shown.”
Like Stewart, it hasn’t taken Buchanan too long to endear himself to Masiello.
“He’s such a gifted scorer,” Masiello said of Buchanan. “He does a lot of great things and he’s growing right in front of our eyes.”
Manhattan will play Marist (2-13, 1-5 MAAC) in Poughkeepsie, New York on Wednesday, January 22 before coming home to host Rider (9-7, 3-3 MAAC) on Sunday, January 26 at 2 p.m.