by Pete Janny, Sports Editor
The Lady Jaspers are surging ahead at the right time. In a season characterized by volatility, the team has finally found some stability ahead of the postseason. Manhattan made one of their loudest statements of the season with a 51-38 triumph over Fairfield (13-14, 10-8 MAAC) this past Saturday at Draddy Gym for Senior Day.
Coming off two important wins against Canisius and Niagara in Western New York, Manhattan was feeling as confident as ever. The catalyst of the team’s resurgence was junior Courtney Warley, the latest MAAC Player of the Week who averaged a stellar 22 points-per-game over the two games in Upstate New York. This inspiring stretch of play from Warley was going to need to continue if Manhattan wanted to avenge their 87-47 loss to the Stags back on Jan. 23rd.
If there was ever an opportune time to play the formidable Stags, it was now. The third-place Stags were coming off back-to-back losses to Marist and Rider in which they were outscored by 38 points across the two games. Luckily for Manhattan, Fairfield’s rust was still intact on Saturday, empowering Manhattan to a 51-38 win. The visitors’ struggles were highlighted by a 27 percent shooting clip that translated to a season-low mark in points. And, in case you were wondering, Warley was once again in prime form, registering 20 points, eight rebounds, and three steals.
After having success with taller lineups in Western New York, head coach Heather Vulin elected to go with a bigger lineup again in hopes of overwhelming Fairfield down low. Julie Hoier, Tuuli Menna, and Warley were all featured in the starting lineup, which mainly benefitted Manhattan from a defensive standpoint. The Stags misfired on six of their first seven shots, allowing Manhattan to jump out to an 11-4 lead after a three from freshman Emily LaPointe with two minutes left in the first quarter. This slow start from Fairfield presented an opportunity for Manhattan to create some separation, but the Jaspers’ offense wasn’t too much better. Manhattan only shot 25 percent in the first quarter on their way to securing an 11-9 advantage after the opening ten minutes of play.
The second quarter started out with Warley terrorizing the Stags with her imposing style of play. She accounted for Manhattan’s first three baskets of the stanza with her jumper at 6:04 regaining a lead for the Jaspers at 17-15. Warley’s improved off-ball movement has been a big reason why she has been able to dominate as of late. Another contributing factor has been the unselfish play of her teammates, who have prioritized getting her the ball throughout her hot streak.
“She’s playing with confidence, but the team is doing an excellent job of getting her the ball,” Vulin said of Warley’s run of dominance.
When speaking on her success, Warley deflected the praise to her teammates.
“We’ve been emphasizing being really aggressive so I’ve just been trying to take the open shot when I have it,” Warley said. “The guards are finding me really well so without that it wouldn’t be possible.”
The second quarter provided a fresh start for Fairfield. Despite presenting minimal threat from three, the Stags were able to get some good looks for top scorers Katie Armstrong and Lou Lopez-Senechal. Both players made an impact in the mid-range territory, showing off soft shooting touches uncharacteristic of players of their height. A jumper and a layup from Armstrong in the closing minutes of the second quarter captured am 23-19 lead for Fairfield. The Stags would finish the half strong to take a 25-24 lead heading into the break.
Predictably, the first half was characterized by fundamental offensive execution from both teams with each side only hitting one three. The struggles from three were hardly surprising given both teams entered the game hovering around 30 percent shooting from the field.
The arrival of the third quarter marked the beginning of the end for Fairfield. The Stags shot a miserable 18 percent (2-of-14) from the field in the quarter and were outscored 17-6. After only turning the ball over six times in the first half, the Stags coughed it up five times in the third quarter alone.
Manhattan’s success on defense in the quarter began to rub off on the offense. Led by LaPointe, Manhattan started playing at a faster pace that caused problems for the Fairfield defense. A three by LaPointe with 37 seconds left in the third put Manhattan in the driver’s seat up 41-31 heading into the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, the freshman from Staten Island refused to go away. LaPointe opened the quarter with an aggressive offensive rebound before finishing off the second-chance opportunity to stretch Manhattan’s lead to 43-31.
LaPointe departed with 18 points and six rebounds. When reflecting on LaPointe’s performance, Vulin was most proud of her tenacity on the boards.
“The two offensive rebounds she had got me excited,” Vulin said of LaPointe.
The lead would grow to as much as 15 following a free throw by Warley with just under two minutes left. The Jaspers cruised to the finish in what was one of their most complete performances of the season.
“This is a great win over a great program,” Vulin said. “I’m incredibly proud of the performance.”
Manhattan returns to Draddy for their regular-season finale on Thursday, Mar. 5 to face the Monmouth Hawks. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.