By: Peter Janny, Sports Editor
Recent games have not been generous to the Manhattan College men’s basketball team (11-14, 7-9 MAAC). To make matters worse, not even playing in Draddy Gym has been able to rejuvenate the Jaspers. After losing 67-64 to a talented Saint Peter’s team (15-11, 12-5 MAAC) on Friday night at Draddy, Manhattan suffered their worst loss of the season on Sunday afternoon when they fell to last-place Canisius (10-17, 5-11 MAAC) by a 57-56 count. The painful loss encapsulated the Jaspers’ mediocrity during their four-game losing streak.
Known for their impressive depth, the Peacocks had every one of their players score in what was a quintessential team win. Other than a sloppy beginning and ending to the game, Saint Peter’s played like a team capable of doing damage in Atlantic City this March. To tell the truth, the respectable scoreline did not accurately reflect the narrative of the game. Other than a late 14-3 scoring, Manhattan was simply not good enough, specifically in the second half.
Saint Peter’s turned the ball over seven times in the opening seven minutes and were also struggling with their shot. Soon thereafter, the Peacocks’ sloppiness began to rub off on Manhattan as they too started to turn the ball over at an alarming rate. An encouraging 11-4 Manhattan lead soon morphed into a 15-11 deficit for the home team following an 11-0 run for Saint Peter’s.
Manhattan endured a stretch in the first half in which they committed eight turnovers in just under six minutes of play. Fortunately, the Jaspers were able to stay competitive despite their messy play as they took a 16-15 lead on a three from sophomore Tykei Greene with a little over seven minutes left in the half.
Both teams went into the break tied at 26. The first half featured bodies flying all over the place in pursuit of loose balls, leading to an excess of turnovers. 17 turnovers from Manhattan in the first half restricted them to only seven makes on a meager 12 attempts. However, this lack of shooting opportunity for Manhattan was partly compensated for by three three-pointers, including two from senior Tyler Reynolds. One clear blemish in Manhattan’s first-half performance was their shortcomings on the offensive boards, with the visitors edging them 9-3 in that category. The root of that problem can be traced to Pauly Paulicap and Warren WIlliams, who only combined for four rebounds in the first half.
A 10-0 run early in the second half increased Saint Peter’s lead to 40-30 following a jumper by Mathhew Lee with 14:31 left. This offensive breakthrough for Saint Peter’s was the result of porous defense down low for Manhattan. Unlike in the first half, the Jaspers’ guards were letting the Peacocks’ guards penetrate with ease to set up easy layups and jump shots.
A free throw by KC Ndefo with 9:42 left dealt Manhattan their largest deficit of the night at 50-34. Manhattan’s mediocre defensive play would continue down the stretch, setting up the Peacocks with a 62-48 lead with 1:48 left. From there, Manhattan got themselves back in the game with a desperate 14-3 run precipitated by a combination of their own hot shooting and dreadful execution by Saint Peter’s. After a layup from Greene with five seconds left cut the deficit to a mere four points, Taylor Quinn clinched the win for Saint Peter’s with a pair at the line.
Given that both teams play a similar style, Manhattan Head Coach Steve Masiello expected this game to be a physical grind.
“It’s two teams that play very similar with a lot of zone, a lot of pressure, and a lot of depth,” Masiello said after the loss to Saint Peter’s. “I thought we settled down a bit after having 15 turnovers in the first half.”
Three of Saint Peter’s 17 turnovers on the night came over the final 40 seconds of play to help make for an exciting ending. As one of two double-digit scorers for his team, Aaron Estrada led Saint Peter’s balanced scoring attack with 18 points. The Peacocks shot the ball at a 43 percent (22-of-51) clip, including a modest 30 percent (3-of-10) from three.
As for the Jaspers, they were fueled by 21 points and 13 points from Greene and Williams, respectively, on a night in which they shot 49 percent from the field (22-of-45). They were 5-of-12 from downtown, with three of those coming from Greene.
“Tykei is capable of a lot of great things,” Masiello said after the loss to Saint Peter’s. “He has to continue to grow and get better.”
By the way Sunday’s game against Canisius was unfolding, it looked as if Manhattan was destined to end their win drought.
The Golden Griffs looked as bad as advertised early on, missing 10 of their first 14 shots. Bothered by Manhattan’s bigs and guarded tightly from behind the three-point line, Canisius was forced to settle for tough mid-range shots. Malik Johnson and Majesty Brandon, Canisius’ leading scorers at over 13 points-per-game, were held to a combined two points on 1-of-8 shooting in the first half.
Paulicap got off to one of his typical strong starts in this one. Tied at 10-10, Manhattan unleashed an 8-0 run that was highlighted by an emphatic alley-oop by Paulicap off a feed from Samir Stewart. Shortly after that, Manhattan put together a 9-0 run that gave them their largest lead of the game at 32-14 with two minutes left in the half. Manhattan did virtually all of their damage from inside in the first half, with Williams and Paulicap leading them to a 20-8 edge in points in the paint. 14 combined points from the duo on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting positioned Manhattan with a 34-18 lead at the half despite only hitting one three.
The entire nature of the game changed in the second half thanks to the heroics of Canisius’ Majesty Brandon.
Down big and playing freely, Canisius made Brandon the focal point on offense. He scored 13 of his team’s first 19 points out of the gate. His second three of the game with 8:39 left in regulation trimmed the Manhattan lead to 46-39. After going scoreless in the first half, Brandon finished with 20 points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep.
“As a Bronx kid we knew he [Brandon] was going to try to get going,” Masiello said of Brandon’s emergence in the second half.
While Brandon was leading the comeback for Canisius, Manhattan looked completely out of sync on offense.
Other than Williams, no one else stepped up for Manhattan. The Jaspers started to become overly reliant on Williams’ post game as the team continued to disappoint from three. Williams finished with a team-high 13 points, with seven of them coming in the second half. Manhattan ended their night 2-of-12 from three, going 1-of-6 in each half. Over their last four games, Manhattan is shooting 28 percent from three (19-of-68). Things will only get worse for Manhattan if their three-point shooting woes persist.
A three from junior Nehemiah Mack swelled the Manhattan lead to 51-44 with a little over seven minutes left, however, Canisius responded with an 8-0 run over the next three minutes that gave them their first lead since 10-7. After three more lead changes, Canisius took the lead for good when Brandon hit a pair from the line with 12 seconds left to seal their improbable one-point win.
The discrepancy in performance for Manhattan between the two halves was night and day. After shooting a blistering 56 percent (14-of-25) in the first half, Manhattan only shot 29 percent (7-of-24). For a team that has had seven different players pace the squad in scoring, this loss to Canisius was the epitome of their inconsistency. Time is running out for a reliable scorer to emerge for Manhattan.
“It’s frustrating,” Masiello said after the loss to Canisius. “But you have to play good basketball for 40 minutes.”
The good news for Manhattan is that they are still in contention for a top five finish in the MAAC that would land them a first-round bye. Entering Wednesday night’s home meeting with Marist (7-18, 6-10 MAAC), Manhattan finds themselves in a four-way tie for sixth place with fifth-place Iona only one game better. Nevertheless, it is critical that Manhattan starts to play up to their potential in preparation for the MAAC tournament.
“If you live and die by the standings, you will lose your mind,” a level-headed Masiello said.