Manhattan took another step towards being the team the Jaspers expected to be all along this season with a convincing 71-57 victory over Fordham Monday at the Barclays Center.
The victory in the 107th edition of the Battle of Bronx was dominated by the Jaspers’ press, but it didn’t look like that would be the case after the first six minutes. Fordham jumped out to an early 16-4 lead as Manhattan started the game 2-9 from the field with two turnovers. The lack of offense prevented the Jaspers from setting up their aggressive full-court press, but once Manhattan found a way to set it up, Steve Masiello’s team controlled play for the final 34 minutes of game action.
“I think we’re a decent team when we’re not pressing. I think we’re a borderline nightmare when we’re in our press,” Masiello said. “We’re just not going to let you do what you practice.”
Manhattan forced 18 Fordham turnovers in 66 possessions as they smothered the Rams’ offense. Four different Fordham players gave the ball away at least three times.
The one Kryptonite to Manhattan’s ferocious press is foul trouble. And while no one’s minutes were reduced because of it, the Rams did attempt 14 free throws in the second half. Fordham’s 25 attempts overall was better than some of Manhattan’s previous outings, but could represent an issue down the line. A young Fordham lineup also managed to let the Jaspers off the hook by only shooting 12-25 from the line.
“I thought we did a good job of not fouling in the first half,” Masiello said. “We didn’t do as well in the second half.”
The Jaspers also managed to get contributions from players throughout the roster on Monday. The lineup of Shane Richards, Tyler Wilson, Zane Waterman, Emmy Andujar and Donovan Kates contained some unlikely heroes, but that group drove the comeback during the first half. Andujar — who tweaked an ankle sprain near the end of the first half but returned for the second — was named the Mike Cohen MVP of the game after scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds in 30 minutes.
“Any time you have [Andujar] on the court a team has a good chance to win,” Masiello said. “I thought he made some really good plays from a leadership standpoint, of keeping his team calm.”
Freshman forward Waterman scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds in only eight minutes.
Wilson’s 17 minutes don’t look like much in the box score, but the sophomore guard was able to rattle Fordham’s guards all night. The press prevented the Rams from getting into their offensive flow. Fordham’s freshman standout Eric Paschall was invisible for large portions of the game and ended up scoring seven points on 2-8 shooting in 25 minutes. Paschall had a nice turnaround jumper, but otherwise struggled to find scoring opportunities as the Jaspers concentrated on taking him out of the game.
Manhattan’s two-game winning streak — its first of the season — could not have come at a better time. The Jaspers will now take 10 days off before picking up MAAC play again with the treacherous Buffalo weekend at Niagara and Canisius. Masiello wanted to use this weekend’s games against Morgan State and Fordham to simulate that experience.
“I hope [MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor] will not let us go to Buffalo and just give us the two wins,” Masiello said about how the weekend prepared his team, while asking for an early Christmas present. “I think it helps us from a confidence standpoint. It really helps me figure out the team from a rotation standpoint.”
Those games, while early in conference season could play a big factor in the seeding for Albany — especially the second against the Golden Griffins. At least now the Jaspers are closer to what they’ve wanted to be than during any other point in the season.