By Pete Janny and Whit Anderson, Sports Editor and Contributor
Manhattan (8-9, 4-4 MAAC) looked to bounce back on Sunday afternoon when they hosted Rider (11-8, 5-4 MAAC) at home coming off two tough losses to Monmouth and Marist respectively.
While MAAC supremacy will ultimately boil down to what happens at the tournament in March, these conference games provide a litmus test on where the team stacks up against the rest of the field.
Unfortunately, Manhattan continued their trend of starting off games slow this season en route to a 67-63 loss.
Manhattan struggled shooting the ball early and were also hurt by a fast start from Rider star Frederick Scott.
Scott opened up the game with the first 10 points for his team. He developed a hot hand early as the Manhattan defense failed to prevent open layups and uncontested threes. A vicious jam by Scott at the 16:23 mark put the Broncs up 10-5 and sent a message to the Jaspers.
Manhattan got punched in the mouth early, but did show some resilience by tightening up their defense to force four Broncs’ turnovers to go on an 8-2 run that cut the deficit to just two with 12:02 left in the first half. However, Rider was able to maintain a lead with the help of their size. Manhattan was outrebounded in offensive boards by seven in the first half alone and those second chance opportunities were a big reason why Rider entered the break with a 27-19 lead.
Rider’s first half lead may have been even bigger if it weren’t for the efforts of Pauly Paulicap. Not only did he record a team-high 10 points heading into break, but he grabbed seven of the Jaspers’ 20 rebounds and was the key reason his team was only down 31-24 heading into the break.
The start of the second half didn’t go as planned for Manhattan also. Their rebounding struggles continued to plague them, highlighted by a put-back dunk and a three from Scott that put him up to 18 points with his team in front 38-30 with 17:09 left in regulation. The Jaspers’ defense didn’t improve from there. In fact, they started to excessively foul, which provided the Broncs with more opportunities from the line.
Rider’s size and skill also gave Manhattan problems on defense. Scott and Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson, both 6’8 respectively, did a fantastic job of protecting the paint while forcing Manhattan into a lot of outside looks. Manhattan shot just 20.8 percent (5-of-24) from three, falling prey to Rider’s gameplan.
As the second half continued, Manhattan did their best to stay within striking distance, but couldn’t make much of a dent into the five to seven point lead that Rider maintained for the majority of the game. A mini run catalyzed by Elijah Buchanan and Tykei Green got the deficit to 45-42, but then Green suffered an undisclosed injury at the 9:33 mark that halted Manhattan’s momentum.
Rider quickly gained control of the game back, taking advantage of the Jaspers’ fouling and getting into the bonus with still 8:44 left. The subpar rebounding and defense persisted for Manhattan, allowing the Broncs to create a 10-0 run to get their lead up to 55-42, the largest of the night. Interestingly enough, Paulicap was on the bench for a large portion of that impressive stretch of play by Rider.
Predictably, the Jaspers made the game close down the stretch when Paulicap returned. He led the comeback with tremendous defense on one end and energy points on the other, including an eye-opening poster dunk with 43 seconds left that cut the Manhattan deficit to just three and got the crowd on their feet. He ended up fouling out with 27 seconds left, departing with 18 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
With 14 seconds left and Manhattan’s hopes of a successful comeback on the line, Samir Stewart somehow hit a three despite getting fouled to put the Manhattan deficit at 63-61. He would end up missing the ensuing free throw before fouling out off an intentional foul that sent the Broncs to the free throw line looking to clinch the victory. Rider had no plans of making things more interesting as they hit their final four free throws after Stewart’s untimely miss to seal their win.
Head coach Steve Masiello was particularly disappointed with how things unfolded in the first half.
“I thought we didn’t play Manhattan basketball the first 20 minutes,” Masiello said after the game.
With every team within three and a half games of each other in the MAAC standings, it’s clear that Manhattan should expect a battle every match moving forward. The level of competition is extremely high this season, but Masiello isn’t fazed. When asked if he thinks there’s more parity in the MAAC this year than in years past, Masiello’s response was “every year.”
Manhattan will look to snap their three-game losing streak when they face Saint Peter’s (8-10, 5-4 MAAC) in Jersey City, New Jersey on Friday night. The team will be in action again just two days later to host rival Iona (5-10, 3-5 MAAC) at noon on Sunday, February 2nd.