A 17-4 run over the final five minutes of the first half helped Manhattan fend off Niagara and pull even at 8-8 in conference play. The Jaspers maintained a double-digit advantage through most of the second half en route to an 82-72 victory.
With the Jaspers trailing 29-26, Rich Williams hit a jumper with 4:56 left in the half to spur the key run. Zavier Turner came through with three-pointers on back-to-back Manhattan possession while Zane Waterman capped things off with a buzzer-beating layup to put the Jaspers up 43-33 at the break.
The Purple Eagles were able to narrow the deficit to just five with 13:49 remaining, but Manhattan responded with triples on three consecutive possessions, the first by Waterman and latter two from Williams, to push the lead back to double digits.
“They made some deep threes,” Niagara coach Chris Casey said. “I thought they were deep threes and their seniors were making them. Their seniors stepped up and did a good job.”
Williams finished the afternoon as the game’s leading scorer with 21 points, just three days after posting a career-high 29 on Thursday night.
“Just starting with our mindset as a whole organization, the time is winding down so our sense of urgency is going up,” Williams said. “Not that it hasn’t been up, but I’m getting whatever is coming to me and it’s working out well the last two games.”
Key to the Jaspers’ ability to run away with things in the second half was the team’s shutdown defense along the perimeter. Niagara entered the afternoon shooting 37.1% from behind the arc this season, but was held to just 5-20 from distance with a 1-11 mark in the second half.
“As far as the offense is concerned, we can do that once we do what we do best, which is defense,” Williams added. “We weren’t doing a great job of just executing on the defensive end. There were a lot of lapses. In the second half we decided to turn that around, communicate a little bit better, and we were just better as a whole.”
Waterman finished with 16 points, his fourth consecutive in double figures, while Pauly Paulicap and Zavier Turner added 13 apiece. Paulicap also logged four blocked shots, including a highlight reel rejection of Dominic Robb’s two-handed slam attempt late in the second half.
WOW … Paulicap block leads to a Williams run out and Manhattan leads 78-67 with 2:39 to play in regulation. pic.twitter.com/gZPEeFXCEC
— JaspersMBB (@JaspersMBB) February 18, 2018
“He’s special,” Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said of Paulicap. “He’s a next-level rim protector, and he’s starting to kind of get in the flow of double-doubles…He’s getting better every day as a sophomore and we’re really happy. He gives us a really solid guy in the back of our zone and our press that changes our team dramatically.”
Niagara played its first full game without the services of all-league guard Matt Scott, who suffered an ankle injury Friday night at Iona and was seen wearing a boot on his right leg on Sunday. Scott remains day-to-day with his status uncertain for next month’s conference tournament.
Kahlil Dukes led Niagara – which remains in third place at 11-5 – with 20 points. Freshman Keleaf Tate earned his first start of 2018 in the place of the injured Scott and finished with 10 points, his third double-digit effort in four games. Marvin Prochet and James Towns rounded out the Purple Eagles in double figures with 17 and 10 respectively.
Both Manhattan and Niagara head into rivalry games next time out. The Purple Eagles will play host to Canisius on Wednesday night while the Jaspers travel to nearby Iona for a 9:00 PM contest Friday night which will be televised on ESNPU.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.