Manhattan 65, Rider 57: Jaspers Starting To Look Familiar

BRONX, N.Y. – It may have been far from beautiful, but eye of the beholder and such because all the reasons why the Monmouth, Iona, and Siena coaching staffs will be losing plenty of sleep worrying about Manhattan next month were apparent in the Jaspers’ 65-57 win over previously streaking Rider at Draddy Gym Tuesday night.

Manhattan, in particular senior Shane Richards, hit big shots down the stretch, made things difficult on the defensive end for the Broncs, and gutted out another victory to move to 6-5 in the MAAC (9-11 overall).

The Jaspers frustrated Rider (9-14, 5-7) so much that there was a scuffle with 37 seconds left that saw Steve Masiello sprint down the court (it happened in front of the Rider bench) and Kevin Baggett taking exception to his aggressiveness in trying to break up what seemed to be a minor altercation (although in Masiello’s defense, the MAAC has had a couple reasonably high-profile “altercations” already this season.

“The only problem I had was one of their guys grabbed Shawn (Valentine),” Baggett said. “I mean, when you’re in that, you just grab your own guys. Once you grab someone else’s guys, it just escalates things. There was a little bit of pushing and shoving, but there was nothing more than that.”

Statistically and physically, Manhattan is flawed. They turn the ball over a ton (20.6%, 300th nationally) and – having lost what would have been their two biggest inside presences in Jermaine Lawrence and Carlton Allen – are a terrible rebounding team (dead last in the MAAC in defensive rebounding and 10th at the offensive end). They foul more than anyone else in the MAAC (in part due to their aggressive defense), and have only the eighth most efficient offense in conference play, and are seventh defensively.

Those numbers don’t point to anything that looks like reserving hotel rooms for more than a couple of nights in Albany.

But this is Manhattan and Steve Masiello we’re talking about, not only the two-time champs, but masters at not only peaking in March, but being able to win perhaps the most important battle, the one between the ears.

Of the three favorites to win the MAAC, the Jaspers have already found a way to beat Monmouth and Siena this season (after losing by 35 to them the first time), and even in getting blown out by Iona, Masiello threw this brilliant quote out there in the postgame:

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He was a little more cryptic after Tuesday’s game, but the message was the same: We’ll be ready in Albany. And it’s hard to doubt him.

“There’s no easy games in this league, really three through nine, everyone’s right there, and 10 and 11 are on your doors,” Masiello said. “Monmouth is trying to separate. It’s just parity in the league, more than I’ve ever seen in all my years here. Every game means a lot, and every game is going to come down to a couple of possessions. You have to have great passion this time of year, understanding who you are and what your opponent is. You can’t be tight.”

There are, of course, the two MAAC titles including last year’s, when they were fairly big underdogs and beat Iona anyway. But this year’s team is eerily similar to the 2013 version, which did not win the MAAC Tournament, but came pretty damn close (losing to Iona in the final seconds) with almost exactly the same flaws that this Jaspers team seems to have. Also consider that Tuesday’s game finished at a plodding 60 possessions, slowest MAAC game for Manhattan since that 2013 final against Iona (also 60). In fact, none of the three Manhattan game in that 2013 MAAC Tourney broke 60, beating Jimmy Patsos 55-52 in 56 trips in the quarterfinals and discombobulating Fairfield into a 60-42 victory, also in 56 possessions in the semis.

That Manhattan team was 9-9 in MAAC play, but won six of its final eight games to get there, and it’s reasonable to think the Jaspers could be a 4 or 5 seed this season and try to do the same thing this season. To that end, Sunday at Fairfield (where Masiello pointed out he’s never won, at least in Bridgeport) will be a big test. But regardless, everyone with designs on a MAAC title in March will breathe much, much easier the minute Manhattan is eliminated. But don’t count on it being an easy task.

What else did we learn at Draddy Gym Tuesday?:

1)About that “altercation”

Khalil Alford and Rider were frustrated that the game has slipped away, so Alford and Zane Waterman (who seems to be involved in all of these things) got into it, arguments started, whistles blew, you’ve probably seen it before.

Now it so happened that everything happened right in front of the Rider bench, and Steve Masiello decided to sprint the length of the court to see what was going on. By rule, he’s well within his right, NCAA guidelines allow a head coach and one assistant to leave their bench to try to break up an altercation on the floor. Baggett (as you read above) took exception that he grabbed a Rider player and not one of his own, but it also was a bit theatrical, which is Masiello’s sideline demeanor much of the time anyway.

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So, in the end, it depends on which side you sit on. If you’re Rider, you wonder how a coach could run all the way down the sidelines, grab a Rider player, and then the only two players ejected were yours (both for leaving the bench, ironically).

If you’re Manhattan, your coach was just doing his job, preventing something that could get his player suspended or worse as the season heads down the stretch.

And more mindgame battles as we get closer and closer to Albany. Masiello hasn’t lost too many of those recently.

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2) Shane Richards was the star

Richards finished with 28 points on 8-13 shooting, and they were hard-earned shots. Rider had him covered and double-covered and Richards found a way to score anyway, elevating over defenders that were right in his face and taking the ball to the hoop when he had to (an area where his game has improved 1000% since his freshman year). He also hit massive shots in the final minutes, including a severely contested three that put Manhattan up four with three minutes left and seemed to break the Broncs’ will in a contest that was a one-possession game for most of the second half.

Senior leadership from Richards (whose shooting percentage has risen slowly but steadily in MAAC play) and Stores, who have both obviously played in huge MAAC games throughout their careers, is another reason why it’s hard to find the courage to bet heavily against Manhattan going forward.

“I tried to come out as aggressive as possible,” Richards said. “I think I took some bad shots, but I just wanted to get going early to get the momentum in our favor. I think I did that for the most part.”

Said Masiello: “Zane Waterman really did some good things on the glass, and Shane Richards put himself in a Player of the Year status tonight. I don’t think I’m been on a player as hard as I was Shane after the Iona game. It’s a tribute to him and a testimony to his character and what he’s about the way he responded. A lot of kids would have pouted.”

3) Rider might be a tough out, too

The Broncs are going to play good defense and play deliberately, and their slow start to the season (4-12, 0-5 in MAAC) was slightly baffling, but a closer look shows a lot of tight games that they didn’t win, kind of like Tuesday. Like Richards, Teddy Okereafor showed the ability to take over the game at times, but missed a couple of shots that Richards made late, and the rest is history. Although the Jaspers scored just 65 points, they finished at 1.08 points per possession, 1.22 in the second half.

“We weren’t good enough on defense,” Baggett said. “Too many breakdowns. We let them drive. Give him credit, he (Richards) is a good player, but we just didn’t do a good enough job on him defensively. We left our feet on shot fakes even though we know he loves to do that. He’s an all-conference player and he showed it.”

Bonus) Be afraid

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