BRONX, N.Y. – Division I basketball coaches aren’t generally a breed that is prone to feeling sorry for themselves, but even among that group, Manhattan coach Steve Masiello has to rank near the bottom of the list.
The Jaspers have carved back-to-back MAAC titles through adversity, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that dressing seven players – not seven scholarship players, but seven total – was but a minor distraction on Monday night as they led start to finish and dominated defending NEC regular-season champion St. Francis Brooklyn 71-60 at Draddy Gym.
Manhattan (2-7) has been going with nine for a while, but freshman Ak Ojo was banged up Saturday against Memphis and somewhere in the 48 hours between that game and this, junior Carlton Allen – who fouled out in just nine minutes Saturday and was averaging 2.7 points and 2.4 rebounds per game – became an ex-Manhattan player, no longer part of the program, per the school.
And so Manhattan was down a magnificent (at least Monday) seven: Shane Richards, Zane Waterman, Tyler Wilson, RaShawn Stores, Samson Akilo, Thomas Capuano, and Rich Williams.
You may notice there are no true centers, and really only Waterman could be close to classified as a “4”. But it probably wouldn’t surprise you that Masiello (at 1-7 on the campaign as well) was not just unapologetic, but defiant, and why not? When you’ve been to three straight MAAC title games, even at 0-2 in the conference and a KenPom rating south of No. 300, there are few people in the conference that are sticking their necks out to declare the reigning champions down and out. Because they’ve seen what has happened to those that do.
“I am not you guys (the media),” Masiello said. “I’ve had 19 years in this profession: Final Fours, national titles, 19 pros, MAAC championships, four of them, we don’t panic. We just stay with our process. That’s all we do. We grind it out and get better every day. We’re a blue-collar program that rolls our sleeves up, we’re not afraid of adversity, we’re lions that love to hunt. That’s who we are. We are infatuated with the process. The harder it is, the better.
“It’s an indictment on character to think that the kids are going to fold because of a couple losses. If you can’t handle adversity, then what’s life all about? For me, that’s what it’s about. How do they approach adversity?”
On Monday night, extremely well, thank you.
What else did we learn Monday night on an outrageously warm December night in Riverdale:
- St. Francis Brooklyn has some work to do
Even wounded, this was a poor matchup for St. Francis Brooklyn, who has trouble shooting against a zone and was going to be prone to turnovers against Manhattan’s aggression. In the end, it was 19 Terrier turnovers, and not much shooting aside from Antonio Jenifer, who had a nice night, going 6-8 from the field for 17 points. St. Francis Brooklyn (3-7) finished with a somewhat respectable 49.0 eFG%, but that was well below Manhattan’s defensive average coming in.
The biggest problem seemed to be in rebounding. The Terriers, who came in 55th nationally in offensive rebound rate, got just six (18.2%), even with Manhattan resorting to playing guard Rich Williams in the middle of the zone for some of the night and Waterman or previously little used Samson Akilo for the rest. Amdy Fall has struggled (shooting 30% from the field so far this season), and other than Chris Hooper, Glenn Braica has few other interior options. If you’ve having trouble shooting (from everywhere on the court), you’re turning the ball over a lot, and you can’t rebound …. well, that’s not good. Braica stressed he’s not really upset about the record, but he hoped his team would be progressing more as NEC play approaches.
“We were not very tough tonight, they were tougher and more focused, and that usually doesn’t happen to us, but it certainly did tonight,” Braica said. “Give Manhattan all the credit for that.”
2) Manhattan will soon get healthier , at least
This was a good win, and the Jaspers play only twice in in the next 19 days, at Morgan State and Eastern Kentucky. Jermaine Lawrence and Carlton Allen, two key post players, will not return, but – while they had potential – neither was putting up huge numbers (we’ll never know with Lawrence this season, obviously). Ball State transfer Zavier Turner won’t be eligible until next year and walk-on Jason Camus is no longer with the team (for non-basketball reasons). The team is not sure if freshman Samson Usilo will play this season due to injury.
But the rest: Ojo, sophomore Calvin Crawford, and walk-on Matt Maloney (who was getting minutes until getting injured) should give the Jaspers 10 healthy bodies by the time MAAC play resumes. They’ll still be hurting in the post positions, but if Monday was any indication, they’ll still going to battle you for rebounds, especially on the defensive end. Waterman, Richards, and potentially Ojo and Crawford are very good defensive rebounders, and de facto center Williams – who appears to be coming into his own as a regular – had 15 points and seven rebounds. And with 10 players, they can at least practice properly. Almost.
“Whatever gives me minutes I’ll do,” Williams said. “I like banging down there in the post, too.”
3) The NEC is a mess
Who are you picking to win it? LIU Brooklyn and Wagner are the only two with winning records, but they were picked fourth and sixth, respectively. The top three teams in the preseason poll are a combined 6-25, St. Francis Brooklyn at fifth is now 3-8, while Sacred Heart, picked seventh, has lost eight in a row. But the good news for teams like the Terriers is that someone is going to win it come March.
“Our record isn’t that important right now. I think getting things right and playing the right way is,” Braica said. “If you look around, there are a lot of records that aren’t great right now, and that’s just the situation with the buy games and thinks like that. That’s life at this level. But we do need to play better. I’m more concerned with how we’re playing right now.”