By Pete Janny, Sports & Managing Editor
The MAAC season is not supposed to be smooth sailing for every team; just ask the Manhattan College women’s basketball team. Entering Saturday’s battle with the Saint Peter’s Peacocks (5-14, 2-8 MAAC), the Jaspers had lost three of their last four games.
A week earlier, Manhattan was in the same situation they had found themselves on this day against the Peacocks. After suffering a tough loss at Fairfield on January 23rd, Manhattan responded with a 54-32 beatdown of Iona at home two days later. Now, coming off a 76-53 loss at Rider this past Thursday, Manhattan was in need of a similar response against a Saint Peter’s squad that arrived in Riverdale with only two wins in conference play.
If you thought this game was going to mirror Manhattan’s 85-52 blowout win over Saint Peter’s on January 9th, then you were mistaken. While Manhattan held the Peacocks to 26 points below their season average on that night, Manhattan had trouble on defense early in this second meeting of the season between the two schools. Despite the lackluster start, Manhattan persevered and overcame a 13-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter to eke out a 68-64 win. Manhattan’s furious comeback was highlighted by 13 points from freshman Emily LaPointe in the fourth quarter that demoralized the Peacocks. LaPointe, five time MAAC Rookie of the Week, finished the game with 23 points, five rebounds, and four assists to lead the Manhattan offense.
Saint Peter’s was able to jump out to an early lead in this game and ran with it. After one quarter of play, the Peacocks led 25-16 with the help of four threes. Taiah Thornton and Kendrea Williams of Saint Peter’s lit up Manhattan in the opening quarter with nine points each on a combined 6-of-9 shooting. As for Manhattan, their shooting struggles in the quarter was characterized by a 2-of-10 showing from behind the arc.
That early deficit wasn’t enough to send a wake up call as things only got worse for the Jaspers in the second quarter.
Impressive execution from Saint Peter’s combined with poor defensive organization by Manhattan allowed the Peacocks to extend their lead to 41-25 with 5:17 left in the second quarter following a three from Briyanah Richardson. The Manhattan defense was letting the Peacocks infiltrate the paint at will for easy looks and it cost them. On the offensive end, rather than seeing what the defense was going to give them, Manhattan bailed the Peacocks’ defense out with forced shots from in the paint and from three.
At the half, Manhattan trailed 44-30 thanks in part to 31 percent shooting from the field, including only a 4-of-15 showing from deep. LaPointe supplied 10 points in the first half to help keep the Manhattan deficit from getting out of hand.
“In the first half we missed a bunch of layups,” Head coach Heather Vulin said after the game. “When you start missing those it affects everything else.”
The Jaspers outscored the Peacocks 10-9 in the third quarter in what was a slog for both teams. Both teams each shot around 20 percent for the quarter, but that only hurt Manhattan as the home team entered the final quarter of play down 53-40.
What changed the complexion of the game in the fourth quarter was the offensive aggressiveness of LaPointe and senior Gabby Cajou. The Manhattan offense was restricted the whole game until both guards rejuvenated their team by playing at a faster pace.
It was Cajou’s fast start in the quarter that helped lay the foundation of the Manhattan comeback. She opened the quarter with a three off one leg as the shot clock expired and then on the next possession dribbled the length of the court before finding a way to finish a tough layup with her left hand. The latter basket moved Manhattan within single digits at 53-45 with 8:48 left in regulation. That marked the first time Manhattan was only down single digits since the opening minute of the second quarter. 10 of Cajou’s 16 points on the afternoon came in the fourth quarter.
Down 57-48 with 6:57 left, Manhattan exploded for a 12-2 run that tied the score at 60-60 four minutes later. LaPointe was unstoppable during this surge, contributing nine consecutive points for Manhattan at one point. LaPointe was ubiquitous in this fourth quarter, doing damage both in the paint and from the perimeter. 11 of her 23 points on the night came during Manhattan’s fourth-quarter comeback.
“As a bigger guard I had a height advantage over them. They started playing to my shot a little more so I was just focused on getting to the rim and beating them off the dribble,” LaPointe said.
Vulin’s confidence in LaPointe seems to be growing with each passing game. What the star freshman showed in the fourth quarter came as no surprise to Vulin.
“She got in kill mode,” Vulin said of LaPointe’s magical fourth quarter. “The thing with Emily as a freshman is she’s still trying to fit in, but she’s earned the right to want the ball and score it.”
Manhattan took their first lead of the night shortly after tying the game when Cajou and LaPointe each connected on a pair from the line to put Manhattan up 64-60 with 57 seconds left. The Peacocks would get back to within one before two more Manhattan free throws in the final minute helped seal the win. 11 of Manhattan’s 13 free throw attempts came in the fourth quarter with the Jaspers connecting on 11 of 13 tries overall. Manhattan’s ability to hit free throws at the end was huge after a first half in which the team didn’t go to the line once.
Manhattan easily won the battle on the boards by a 58-41 count. Sophomore Courtney Warley led the way with a game-high 15 boards. In addition to her rebounding prowess, Warley added nine points.
“She was incredible for us in the second half,” Vulin said of Warley’s performance. “She was dominant defensively and allowed us to hold them to 19 points in the second half.”
Manhattan will return to action on Thursday, February 6th when they host Siena (6-13, 4-6 MAAC) at home at 11 AM. The team will then hit the road to play Marist (15-4, 8-2 MAAC) two days later on Saturday, February 8th.