by, Pete Janny, Sports Editor
Not to steal some thunder from the rock band the Cars, but ‘Let the good times roll’ may very well be the motto for Heather Vulin and her Lady Jaspers this season. After sweeping the Monmouth Hawks this past weekend, Manhattan moved to 7-3 in the MAAC and are now 7-6 overall.
Although Emily LaPointe was sidelined for both games due to injury, Manhattan was led by the likes of Sydney Watkins and Dee Dee Davis this past weekend against Monmouth, who were playing their first conference games of the season after multiple COVID-19 shutdowns.
Watkins’ season-high 17 points on Friday night—on 5-of-5 shooting from three—was huge for Manhattan as they pulled away for a 58-45 win. The next night ultimately saw the same team prevail, but it was much tighter the second time around, as the Lady Jaspers eked out a 49-48 victory thanks to 11 second-half points from Davis.
“It was a tough weekend without Emily and [Lizayha Morgan] so it was tough not having two of my better offensive players,” Vulin told the Quad in light of Morgan being unavailable over the weekend as well.
The old adage in basketball that ‘defense leads to offense’ was manifested in game one, as Manhattan turned Monmouth over 31 times leading to a 20-5 advantage in points off turnovers. Not only was the turnover number impressive, but Manhattan limited the Hawks to one three the whole game and also forced 11 steals en route to snapping their three-game losing streak. There were two occasions in the second-half, one which concluded the third quarter and the other that commenced the fourth quarter, which featured Davis and senior guard Gabby Cajou turning steals into fastbreak layups on the end. It was textbook Manhattan defense and the Lady Jasper ended the game on a 23-8 run to doom the Hawks.
The second half of game two on Sunday night was the Davis show.
Despite missing 10 of her first 11 shots, Davis did not shy away from the big moments in the second half, burying three threes as she played an indispensable role and accounted for 11 of her team’s last 13 points. At times this season, Davis has seemed to force her game instead of letting herself naturally get into a groove. But when Davis is on her game, Manhattan probably doesn’t have a more talented scorer than the Bronx native, and she showed that in game two with 16 points that were made possible by four threes.
“I love the fact that Dee Dee loves the fourth quarter and that she has the talent and confidence to make those shots,” Vulin said of Davis’ performance in game two.
While those timely buckets from Davis were vintage Manhattan, at times the prospect of completing the sweep appeared muddled. The Hawks put up a valiant effort in the second half and were able to secure a three-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Monmouth’s Jen Louro, who only had seven points on 2-of-9 shooting in game one, awoke in the second half of game two, pouring in 14 points as she waged a war on buckets with Davis.
With Manhattan protecting a one-point lead, Louro almost saved the day for the Hawks with a shot down low that rimmed out on her team. The Hawks drew up a clever in-bounds play for Louro, but Manhattan was able to do just enough to disrupt her from ending the series in a split.
“Credit to Christina [Katsamouri],” Vulin said assessing the final play. “She wasn’t in the play but made herself get back in the play to distract [Louro] enough to miss the shot.”
It was a mission accomplished for the Lady Jaspers, who on Sunday night improved to 4-1 this season when holding the opposition to 50 points or less.
Manhattan’s knack for forcing turnovers was a factor in game two as well, pressuring the Hawks into 18 turnovers while only turning it over a season-best nine times themselves. Meanwhile, senior Courtney Warley finished game two with 10 rebounds which marked her 40th career double-digit rebounding effort. However, after contributing 14 points in game one, Warley struggled with her shot the next day and only scored four points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field.
Outside of Davis’ 17 points in game two, the scoring department included 10 points from Miceus, who scored eight points in the second half and was the beneficiary of a few entry passes down low that resulted in layups. Watkins followed up her own stellar performance in the opener with eight points in the finale on the strength of two more threes. Over her last four games, Watkins has been one of Manhattan’s best players as she’s averaging 10.5 points-per-game on 38 percent shooting (12-of-31) from three over that span.
“Syd’s always been able to shoot,” Vulin said of Watkins’ growth as a player. “Defensively she’s really gotten better. She’s really bought in with what we do defensively.”
LaPointe has missed the last three games after sustaining an injury in the second game of the Marist series back on Jan. 10. The team is happy with her recovery so far and are hopeful to get her back sooner than later.
“It’s day to day and we’re hoping she’ll be back this weekend,” Vulin said regarding LaPointe’s status moving forward.
Last season’s MAAC Rookie of the Year, LaPointe has yet to find an offensive groove this season, averaging 8.9 points-per-game on 28 percent shooting across 10 games. However, when LaPointe is on her game there are few players better than her in the conference even though she’s still only a sophomore. For now, Vulin and her players are anticipating LaPointe’s return while trying to make the most of the challenges that have been thrown their way during her absence. They are 2-1 this season in games without LaPointe.
“She’s not just a scorer, but she was leading our team in assists before she went out,” Vulin said of LaPointe, who’s averaging 3.5 assists-per-game. “She’s one of those kids who makes everyone around her better.”
Manhattan kicks off a four-game home stand on Saturday, Jan. 30 when Canisius (0-5, 0-4 MAAC) comes to Riverdale for a two-game set that will conclude on Sunday. Both games are scheduled to tip-off at 4 pm and can be streamed on either ESPN 3 or ESPN Plus.