Reaching over .500 for the first time this season at 11-10 with an impressive 87-76 victory at Monmouth, you would think that Steve Masiello’s Manhattan Jaspers have started to click.
However, the fourth year coach of the team, feels that even in a victory where they led by as many as 25, he can still find flaws with his team.
“I don’t think we’re on all cylinders,” Masiello said. “I didn’t think Ashton Pankey played particularly well in the post, I didn’t think Tyler Wilson did things he’s capable of, Rich Williams didn’t have a great night. So for me, we’re not clicking on all cylinders.”
Manhattan’s defense has regressed during the season, but has looked good during conference play. They lead the conference with 7.2 steals per game and have defended the three-point line well, allowing opponents to shoot just 30.8% from deep; however, the Jaspers have struggled to defend the foul line. Opponents’ free throw rate on Manhattan is 54.8% FTA/FGA, only five teams have defended the line worse than the Jaspers. Monmouth reached the line 24 times during the second half, scoring 22 of their 52 points from the charity stripe.
“Our ‘A game’ is defending the way we did for 40 minutes, not 26, executing offensively the way we did for 40 minutes,” Masiello said. “So they always say the most common road to mediocrity is being realistic. I’m not being realistic about it, when I have all my guys clicking offensively and all my guys clicking defensively, that’s our ‘A game.’ That’s what I strive for every day so we’re definitely not clicking on all cylinders, do you ever get to that point I don’t know, but I think we’re starting to get better every day.”
Last season, the Jaspers started 8-4 and finished the rest of conference play winning seven of their final eight to snap up the league’s second seed in the MAAC tournament. This season, Masiello admitted that he probably over-scheduled for a new group, who started 2-7 through their first nine games.
“I think this year, what its done is really mentally its gotten us ready,” Masiello said. “I think our guys have a feeling that we’ve seen everything there is to see, we’ve played in big venues, small venues, 11am, 7 at night, 9 at night, there’s not much we haven’t seen.”
“I think our guys have seen it all and I think what it does is it builds mental toughness as the year goes on,” Masiello said. “It’s something I want to do, I like getting those opportunities – obviously I wish we were more successful in them this year – but at the end of the day for us right now we got to understand its about how we’re playing in [March], that’s what matters for us right now.”
The Jaspers begin a critical stretch, hosting three of their next four games, which includes their first date with Iona, but before that are games against Rider (8-4) and Canisius (7-5). Those games will hold excess value for possible tournament seeding scenarios and the Jaspers split games with the two that were both determined by three points.
In order for them to make a dent in the standings, they will have to rely on senior Emmy Andujar, who ranks fifth in the conference with 16.0 ppg and has played to his potential as a go-to player for Manhattan.
“I think he’s had a monster year,” Masiello said of the 6’6″ senior from the Bronx. “I think he’s one of the more underrated guys in the country, I’m obviously going to be very biased towards my guys, there are a lot of good players in this league. Zaid [Hearst] is terrific, A.J. [English] and David [Laury] are terrific, there are a lot of guys that can go, but I don’t think Emmy’s put in that class enough.”
Andujar’s season-high 27 points on Sunday at Monmouth were one point fewer than his career high, set last season against Iona.
“He makes me a lot better coach, I’m lucky to coach him,” Masiello said. “I’ll take him any day of the week and twice on Sundays.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.