by Pete Janny, Sports Editor
WB: Marist 71, Manhattan 66
The Manhattan women’s basketball team (7-9, 4-3 MAAC) hoped to follow up their 30-point drubbing of Siena on the road last Thursday with another win when the Marist Red Foxes (12-3, 5-1 MAAC) came to Draddy on Saturday afternoon.
This matchup with the Red Foxes was an opportunity for Manhattan to avenge last season’s season-ending 65-51 loss to Marist in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament. In a game in which Manhattan led by one after the first quarter, the Jaspers’ play fell off drastically in the second quarter and allowed Marist to take the lead for the remainder of the game. A resilient second-half performance allowed Manhattan to cut the deficit to five with 3:27 left, but Marist’s Rebekah Hand capped off her 24-point performance with five points in the closing minutes to deny the Jaspers’ comeback attempt. The final score was 71-66.
Coming off a game-high 19 at Siena, LaPointe showed no intention of slowing down in this one.
Manhattan was able to jump out to an 11-5 lead a little less than four minutes in thanks to an aggressive offensive mindset for LaPointe that led to her scoring eight of her team’s first 11 points. LaPointe’s fast start added excitement to a game that featured shaky execution from both teams early.
The Red Foxes came out flat, missing eight of their first 11 shots, including a handful of shots from point-blank range. Unfortunately, Manhattan failed to take full advantage of Marist’s inauspicious start due to questionable shot selection at times in the opening quarter. Instead of trying to establish some success down low early by working the ball around, Manhattan was happy to settle for three-point attempts and low percentage shots. Although Manhattan led 16-15 at the end of one, there’s no question they missed a prime chance to be up by a lot more.
The second quarter was the stretch in which Manhattan essentially lost the game for themselves. The Jaspers were outscored 21-10 for the quarter and were held to an ugly 21.4 percent from the field (3-of-14). The second quarter introduced Manhattan to some crisp passing from Marist that led to a gauntlet of easy looks down low for the visitors. At one point, the Red Foxes scored four straight baskets in the paint made possible by smart passes and cuts to the basket. As a result of their newfound success in the paint, Marist was able to shoot a blistering 9-for-13 in the second quarter.
Much to the chagrin of head coach Heather Vulin, the Jaspers turned the ball over five times in the second quarter, with one of the more unnerving ones being an errant pass by senior guard Gabby Cajou with 3:12 left in the half that went out of play and forced Vulin to call a timeout. After five points from senior Julie Hoier helped briefly weather the storm to tie the game at 20-20, the Red Foxes tempered any trace of growing hope in Manhattan fans with a devastating 12-0 run that put behind Manhattan behind by as much as 12.
“I’m very proud of the effort, but that second quarter we dug ourselves to big of a hole,” Vulin said after the game.
If Manhattan was going to lose this game, LaPointe made sure they weren’t going to go down without a fight.
LaPointe picked up right where she left off by hitting two more threes in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Her second three of the quarter at 7:50 cut the Manhattan deficit to single digits at 40-32 and gave the Jaspers some renewed hope. After proceeding to fall behind by 12 again in the ensuing minutes, Manhattan closed out the third quarter on 17-5 run that culminated with a three by sophomore Sydney Watkins with three seconds left.
Improvements on the defensive end are what allowed the Jaspers to claw their way back into it. Manhattan used the press to their advantage in the third quarter, mustering nine points off Marist turnovers.
“We dug ourselves a hole and our press got us right back into it,” Vulin said with respect to the defensive adjustments her team made.
Down by 10 with 6:47 left in the game, Manhattan made one last comeback bid by manufacturing a 9-1 run that whittled the deficit down to 64-61 following a layup by Hoier with 4:08 left. Hoier has quietly put together an excellent season and Vulin believes the veteran deserves more attention for all that she does for the team.
“She just keeps building momentum,” Vulin said of Hoier, who finished with 14 points and 10 boards on a deadly 10-of-14 shooting from the field. “Other kids may get the attention but Julie is definitely a big reason why we are being so competitive this year.”
Hand, who gave Manhattan headaches all night, had the final say in the outcome of this game with five key points in the closing minutes that stretched the lead back up to seven and effectively clinched the win for Marist. She tallied 24 points on a torrid 9-of-13 shooting with 16 of her points coming in the second half.
“She’s just a really elite scorer and lets the game come to her without forcing her shot,” Vulin said of what makes Hand so tough to stop.
Manhattan was led by 18 points from LaPointe on 4-of-9 shooting from deep. What LaPointe has done and continues to do as a freshman is extremely rare. She now has 11 double-figuring scoring performances this season and is well on her way to MAAC Rookie of the Year.
“Usually a freshman can’t play 36 minutes because they don’t make good decisions on defense or they put themselves in foul trouble,” Vulin said in reference to the 36 minutes LaPointe played. “Emily’s just really coachable and continues to make plays which is why it is hard to take her off the court.”
The special chemistry that Marist plays with is the result of having heavy veteran presence on their side. During her time in Riverdale, some of Vulin’s Manhattan teams have been among the youngest in the country. By the way she spoke of Marist after the game, you could tell that one of Vulin’s goals for the program is to build around veteran players. Unlike most years, the bulk of the minutes this year are actually being played by Manhattan upperclassmen.
“Marist has so many weapons and four seniors that are so used to playing with each other,” Vulin said. “And this is actually our first year with juniors and seniors playing major minutes.”
Manhattan will look to bounce back at Fairfield (8-6, 5-0 MAAC) on Thursday, January 23rd before coming back home to face arch rival Iona (3-11, 2-3 MAAC) on Saturday, January 22nd at 2 PM.