by: Pete Janny & Whit Anderson, Sports Editor and Staff Writer
Manhattan 61, Fairfield 43
Quarterfinals: Siena 63, Manhattan 49
In what was supposed to be the ultimate showdown to determine which team represents the MAAC in the now cancelled NCAA Tournament, the underdog Manhattan Jaspers (13-18, 8-12 MAAC) put on quite a fight.
The Jaspers came into last Tuesday’s game against Fairfield (12-20, 8-12 MAAC) as the ninth seed, after losing seven out of eight games to close out the MAAC regular season. However, that didn’t stop them from dominating the Stags en route to a 61-43 win in the opening round, despite losing to the Stags 66-50 just four days earlier at Draddy. The Jaspers’ run came to end in the quarterfinals on Wednesday night with a 63-49 loss to the one seed Siena Saints (20-10, 15-5 MAAC).
Head coach Steve Masiello chose to have sophomores Tykei Greene and Elijah Buchanan come off the bench against Fairfield in the opening round. This gave other players a chance to make their mark early.
Two players who rose to the occasion were Christian Hinckson and Tyler Reynolds. They combined to hit three triples within the first five minutes – two from Hinckson and one from Reynolds. Reynolds had a very solid night overall, hitting three out of his four attempts from behind the arc to finish with nine points. It was evident he didn’t want this game to be the last of his career.
There was no other way to describe the first half other than to say it was ugly basketball. Both teams went on prolonged scoring droughts. After Hinckson hit a three at the 15:51 mark, the Jaspers didn’t make a field goal until a jumper from Pauly Paulicap with 4:17 left in the first half.
For over 11 minutes, Manhattan couldn’t put the ball in the basket. Somehow, they still found a way to not let Fairfield gain a lead. This was largely due to their phenomenal defense, particularly on Fairfield’s two biggest scoring threats: Landon Taliaferro and Jesus Cruz.
In their last matchup at Draddy, the two Stags’ players combined for 42 points on 17-of-27 shooting from the field. But on Tuesday, both only mustered 11 total points on a combined 3-of-17 shooting. The Jasper game plan was designed to contain the duo, and they executed it to perfection.
A three by junior Nehemiah Mack with a little over a minute remaining in the first half temporarily gave Manhattan a 19-18 lead, before a free throw by Fairfield’s Wassef Methnani tied the score at 19 entering the break. Mack finished with seven points and seven rebounds, while doing all the dirty work.
Manhattan only shot 27 percent from the field in their first half of tournament play. However, they kept themselves in the game by going 4-of-8 from behind the arc and outrebounding the Stags by a 23-18 count. Fairfield shot an abysmal 20 percent, largely due to Manhattan’s disruptive defense.
Right out the gate in the second half, Paulicap took over. Fresh off his All-MAAC Third Team selection, Paulicap got to work in the low post to score two quick buckets to give the Jaspers a 26-23 lead with 16:49 left. Fairfield had no answer for him down low, as he continued to live in the paint on his way to pouring in 18 points for Manhattan. He was also a force on the boards and the defensive end, adding 12 rebounds and two blocks in what might have been his best game as a Jasper.
Paulicap was phenomenal, but it wasn’t a one man show for Manhattan. The solid three-point shooting from the first half carried into the second, with Reynolds and Samir Stewart combining for four more threes over a four-minute span. This shooting exhibition opened up a 41-29 lead with 10:17 left, and Manhattan would never look back. The 18-point victory made for one of Manhattan’s best victories of the year.
With a matchup with Siena set for Wednesday night, Manhattan had to switch their focus to an incredibly tough Saints team. Led by the recently named MAAC Player of the Year Jalen Pickett, the Jaspers had to find a way to stop him and the best offense in the conference.
Right from the jump, there was no doubt Manhattan was going to make Siena earn everything they wanted. The Manhattan defense focused their attention on Pickett, doubling him almost every time he brought the ball up, to force other Siena players to make plays on offense. While Siena tried to make adjustments, Manhattan was executing solidly on offense. Paulicap scored his team’s first seven points, and then Reynolds hit a three to make the score 10-10 with 13:02 remaining in the first half.
Siena needed other guys to step up if they wanted to avoid an upset, and this is exactly what they got from Manny Camper and Sammy Friday IV. Both found ways to score at will to give the Manhattan defense head aches all night. Friday and Camper finished with 12 and 15 points, respectively, to pace the Siena attack.
Siena’s growing confidence took their lead to 27-17 with just over seven minutes left in the first half. This lead was partly fueled by a 14-7 rebounding advantage. In addition, the Saints’ physical play on offense was bothering Manhattan big men Paulicap and Warren Williams. At the half, Manhattan trailed 34-25. The Jaspers played fairly well for their standards, but they needed to be better in order to offset Siena’s explosive offense.
The Jaspers needed a fast start to the second half in order to have a chance to come back. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to gain any momentum on either side of the ball.
The Manhattan offense stayed inconsistent, with too many missed shots and turnovers leading to fastbreak opportunities for Siena. This, on top of giving up multiple threes, blew the game open. The Saints led 54-36 with 8:00 left and had an 11-0 advantage in transition points. Manhattan continued to fight, but Siena cruised the rest of the way to a 63-49 victory.
With the Jaspers’ run officially over, Coach Masiello reflected on the season, saying, “I think we had times where we played brilliant basketball, and I thought we had times where we didn’t recognize ourselves. At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for experience, and that’s what we got these last two years… now it’s time to get the results.”
There is still a lot of untapped potential for Manhattan, but questions still remain as to whether they can be put it all together. Fortunately, Paulicap, who registered back-to-back double-doubles in the tournament, will be back next year after his request to the NCAA for another year of eligibility was granted. Paulicap has completed three seasons at Manhattan after one season at Harcum College. He led the Jaspers in scoring this season with 10.4 points-per-game in what a nice bounce back season for him after playing in only 10 games last season. Paulicap and the core of rising juniors headline next year’s team.