by Whit Anderson, Staff Writer
Friday night was a special moment for seniors Jesse Boyce and Tyler Reynolds. They were honored for all their years of dedication and service to the Manhattan (12-17, 8-12 MAAC) basketball team. Along with their families, they received wholehearted cheers and farewells from the Jasper crowd in what was their final game at Draddy Gymnasium. However, this would be the highlight of the evening for Manhattan. Once the game began, there was very little to cheer about in the Jaspers’ 66- 50 defeat against the Fairfield Stags (12-19, 8-12 MAAC).
From tipoff, the Stags had the advantage execution wise on offense. Fairfield saw an opening in the Manhattan defense from right below the free throw line and dumped the ball there for three consecutive mid-range jumpers before the 17:00 mark of the half. This looked like a fixable issue for the Jaspers, but the Stags continued to get looks in this same spot which gave them a 16-7 lead with 11:27 to go.
While Fairfield was rolling Manhattan Fails to Deliver Against Fairfield on Senior Night offensively, Manhattan could not buy a basket. The Stags did a solid job of clogging the paint, forcing the Jaspers into contested layups and low quality jumpers. On top of this, Manhattan was unable to take care of the ball. The Jaspers made only 3-of-9 field goal attempts to go along with three turnovers in the first ten minutes of the game.
The only thing preventing Manhattan from getting completely blown out early was the energy from Pauly Paulicap. As he’s done all season, Paulicap grabbed every available rebound and dove on the floor at every opportunity to give the Jaspers more chances to stay in the game. This somewhat sparked the Jasper offense, and a Tykei Greene three cut the lead to 19-12 with 8:39 left in the first half.
However, the Jaspers failed to get back on defense the very next possession. Fairfield’s sharpshooter Landon Taliaferro made them pay with his own corner three, causing Steve Masiello to call a timeout with 7:33 left. At this point, the Stags were shooting 64 percent to the Jaspers’ 28 percent while also having a 14-4 edge in points in the paint. Fairfield was also winning the rebound and assist battle.
On top of getting outplayed, all the bounces and miracle shots seemed to go Fairfield’s way. This was apparent on one Stags’ possession where the Jaspers played about as perfect defense as possible, forcing Jesus Cruz to fall and almost lose the ball. With the shot clock about to expire, Cruz threw up a prayer from his knees that somehow went in for three of his 21 points on the night. That shot extended the Fairfield lead to 29-15 with 4:24 left in the first half.
While Fairfield was making both the easy and difficult baskets, the Jaspers could not buy one. In fact, their last made field goal in the half came at the 6:44 mark. This meant that other than a few free throws, they didn’t see the ball go into the basket for nearly seven minutes. Overall, Manhattan shot just 20.8 percent (5-of-24) in the first half while racking up 10 turnovers to just four assists. The Stags headed into the locker room with a 34-17 cushion.
The Jaspers looked to come out with a newfound energy to start the second half. Their defense started forcing more Stags turnovers which limited Fairfield’s shot attempts. In fact, the Jaspers had 33 attempts to 28 for Fairfield with 12:15 left in the game. This also led to more looks inside for Manhattan, but their inability to finish down low prevented them from significantly cutting into Fairfield’s lead.
Since the Jaspers could not make the close shots, their only chance to get back in the game was with the three ball and this is exactly what they did for a stretch to spark a mini comeback. It started with a Tyler Reynolds three pointer assisted by Samir Stewart. Manhattan then made three more threes within the span of four minutes to get the deficit to 48-41 with 8:45 remaining.
Stewart was the main catalyst for the run, and was the only Jasper who had an overall solid night. He finished with 12 points and two threes made, and may have had a bigger impact if he didn’t have to sit out most of the first half with foul trouble.
The closest Manhattan got was six back following a layup from Reynolds with 7:13 left. Once the three point magic went away, Fairfield gained control once again and exposed the Jaspers’ defense. The Jasper killers, Cruz and Taliaferro, were able to get to open spots on the court and knocked down a strong percentage of their looks to get the Fairfield lead back to double digits for good.
There were very few positives in this game for Manhattan. They let Fairfield shoot 62 percent from the floor, gave up a whopping 38 points in the paint, and shot a hair under 30 percent (14-of-47) of their shot attempts.
“Bad execution, bad shots,” Masiello said after the game. “They had many situations at the end of the shot clock where they either got fouled or hit crazy shots. It wasn’t meant to be.”
When asked if he believes the effort his team showed in the second half will help them make a run in the tournament, he boldly declared, “We’re gonna make a run no matter what.”
Manhattan will have a chance to redeem themselves when they play Fairfield again in the first round of the MAAC tournament on Tuesday at 5 p.m. Friday’s night loss to Fairfield marked Manhattan’s second loss of the season to the Stags, who took the first game 68-60 on Jan. 10 at Alumni Hall. After losing seven of eight to close out the regular season, Manhattan will look to shock the college basketball world in Atlantic City.