Three Thoughts: Manhattan 65, Saint Peter’s 48

In the second semifinal matchup Sunday evening, Manhattan gained separation from Saint Peter’s late in the first half and pulled away late to advance to the MAAC championship game Monday evening. The Jaspers will have an opportunity to defend their conference crown as they take on local rival Iona in a game televised nationally on ESPN2. Here are three thoughts from the Jaspers’ semifinal win over Saint Peter’s:

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello, after beating Saint Peter’s, will try to become the first MAAC team since 2010 to repeat as tournament champions on Monday night.

Steve Masiello continued his impeccable run against Saint Peter’s. Masiello has never dropped a game to the New Jersey rival and picked up his most important victory in the streak Sunday evening to set up the third iteration of the vaunted Iona/Manhattan rivalry in the championship game Monday night.

What has been the secret to this sustained success over the last four years? Masiello himself makes it seem simpler than it appears.

“Good players,” was Masiello’s simple recipe for success. “Really good players, these guys. It’s not about me, it’s about them. I’ve got really good players. But so do they. My feeling on that is if we were to play Saint Peter’s ten more times they’d probably beat us ten times in a row. It’s a game of numbers, and you’ve got to hope you can keep momentum going.”

The Peacocks and Jaspers have been two of the most aggressive defensive teams in the MAAC over the last half decade. Saint Peter’s rode that defensive prowess to a MAAC championship in 2010-11, where they defeated Iona in the championship game and would have had the opportunity to do so again this year.

Since Masiello took over in Riverdale four years ago, his patented Louisville-style pressure schemes have caused more havoc than any other group in the MAAC. In a battle of two of the more stifling defenses in the league, it was Manhattan’s pressure that overcame Saint Peters’ lockdown sets.

“It was very physical,” Masiello said of the matchup with the Peacocks. “Two very good defensive teams in my opinion who I thought both competed, both with very senior-heavy rosters so you knew there was going to be a lot of energy and passion given neither team wanted to lose.”

Saint Peters’ seniors were never able to get over the Manhattan hump. As noted above the Peacocks are winless in ten tries against Steve Masiello’s Jaspers, which is exactly where their tournament hopes ended in the MAAC tournament semifinals.

The Peacocks stayed within striking distance for most of the first half and trailed by just two after a Chazz Patterson triple made it a 23-21 Manhattan advantage entering the final three minutes of the half. However, that was the beginning of the end for Saint Peter’s. Manhattan outscored the Peacocks 10-2 over the final 2:27 of the frame to take a ten point lead into halftime.

“The disappointing part of the game for us was their pressure bothered us,” Dunne said on that period in the game. “That’s what they do, and they do it well. They make it a helter-skelter game. You have to pass and catch well, move the ball, and get it out of their pressure. If you do that, you’re going to get really good shots. We just didn’t do it enough.”

Heartbreak marred the faces of the Saint Peter’s seniors late in the second half as the reality set in that their tournament run and collegiate careers were coming to an end. Jamel Fields sulked with a towel over his head while Desi Washington, Marvin Dominique and others chose not to impede their vision but still found it difficult to look on in the final minutes.

“I love this group here, this special group,” Fields said of his senior class. “It’s really disappointing, but that’s a great team we faced just now. They’re really well coached, and they were just better tonight.”

“We really thought we were going to have a great chance of winning this game,” fellow senior Marvin Dominique said. “It just wasn’t our night tonight. It’s sad to see everybody go and not going to be together anymore. We seniors stuck together through our senior season and it’s just sad. We’re just down right now but we’ll be okay.”

Perhaps the most disappointing thing for Saint Peter’s was that they didn’t get another shot at Iona. The Peacocks had the Gaels dead to rights in New Rochelle on the final night of January before dropping a 68-61 decision in overtime after which tempers flared.

They finally did get their payback in the final game of the regular season, taking down Iona 68-60 in Jersey City. Saint Peter’s was one of the few teams to display a capability to shut down Iona’s high-flying offense, and they were certainly looking forward to another opportunity to flex their defensive muscle.

“We thought we had something special going on and we truly believed we were going to win this game and face an Iona team we had just beaten,” Dunne said. “Obviously we’re highly disappointed. Unfortunately we didn’t play to the best of our ability.”

Manhattan’s shooters can do more damage than you think. Sometimes it’s easy to wonder where the Jaspers get all their offense from. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Manhattan’s identity lies on the defensive end, but also that two of their most prominent players, Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey, are forwards.

But what about the backcourt? Well it all starts with Shane Richards. The sharpshooting junior guard is quickly playing himself onto the all-tournament team with back to back double-digit efforts to start the MAAC tournament. Richards notched 18 points in Saturday’s win over Marist and added 14 more Sunday evening. He is shooting 47% from behind the arc over those two games.

Beyond Richards, Manhattan received boosts from a couple of sources they would love to see continue to contribute. RaShawn Stores came up with nine points in the win over Saint Peter’s, including the dagger 3-pointer to put Manhattan up 11 with just 3:40 to play. Tyler Wilson has also been a valuable support, averaging six ppg in Albany.

However, it was freshman Zane Waterman who broke out in a big way on Sunday. Waterman provided his best Richards impression, knocking down three of four from behind the arc en-route to a career high 10 points.

“These kids can play, but they’re behind two all-league guys,” Masiello said of his role players. “When you go to a winning program that’s what’s going to happen; you have to wait your turn. Zane Waterman was ready. He’s been there all year, but he hasn’t gotten the minutes. What I’m proud of is they were ready for the opportunity though. They were ready. Our motto is if you stay ready you don’t have to get ready.”

If Manhattan can continue to get that valuable production from their back-court members in addition to their normal defensive pressure and frontcourt success, Monday night’s championship should be another game to remember.

Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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