Emmy Andujar scored 1,000th career point in Manhattan's 68-63 win over Saint Peter's, becoming 36th Jasper to reach that milestone. (Photo courtesy of the Manhattan Quadrangle)
A first half that will go down, for the time being, as perhaps the best 20 minutes of Manhattan basketball this season, confirmed that, while a gritty second half effort to fend off an upset-minded Saint Peter's team; one who has made a reputation for making opponents earn every point they score, only underscored Masiello's belief.
Manhattan (6-8, 3-2 MAAC) needed all 40 minutes on this night in Riverdale, riding the wave of momentum from a 41-22 halftime lead into a resilient defensive stand in the final minutes to withstand a furious rally from Saint Peter's, (8-8, 2-3) getting to the finish line ahead of the Peacocks by the final of 68-63 in what could be construed as a tale of two halves, but will ultimately be viewed as a moment in which the vision the Jaspers' coach has had for the past two months came to fruition.
"It was a great win for us," Masiello declared after Manhattan put a check mark in the win column for the fourth time in their last five efforts. "I thought we really came out in the first half, executed really well, had a great defensive mentality for the night. We let them shoot a little high in the second half, but we locked down the three-point line. That was the key to the game."
The Jaspers started the evening making all of their first nine field goals and just as many free throws, not missing a shot of any kind until Jermaine Lawrence misfired on his first attempt at the foul line with 8:03 remaining in the first half. Manhattan's perfection from the floor carried over for nearly another minute more before Zane Waterman hit the front iron on a three-pointer with 7:50 to play in the opening stanza. However, the contributions of Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey, who accounted for 25 of Manhattan's 41 points in the first 20 minutes, were all the Jaspers would need as they went into the locker room up by 19 points on a night where the reigning MAAC champions led wire-to-wire.
"We took Desi (Washington) and (Marvin) Dominique out," Masiello said with regard to the Peacocks' two leading scorers, "and that's not easy to do. We're very happy with our effort, but for 28 minutes, I thought we were terrific."
Manhattan's lead remained a double-digit advantage for most of the second half before Saint Peter's uncorked an 8-2 run to pull within seven points with 7:03 left in regulation, as Trevis Wyche stole an inbounds pass that the sophomore proceeded to lay in to bring the Peacocks into a three-possession game. The Jaspers pushed the lead back up to nine shortly thereafter on a pair of Andujar free throws, which propelled the senior forward into the 1,000 point club at Manhattan, but five straight points from Tyler Gaskins; whose career-high 20 points led the Peacocks in the losing effort, trimmed Saint Peter's deficit to four points, at 58-54, with 3:48 to play.
The Jaspers answered Gaskins' run with a three from RaShawn Stores on the ensuing possession, and kept the game a two-possession affair through the final minute until Rodney Hawkins' layup brought the Peacocks three points shy of the home team, trailing 66-63 entering the final 4.3 seconds. With no timeouts, Saint Peter's needed to extend the game by fouling and hoping the Jaspers would miss, but two free throws from Donovan Kates ensured the final margin of victory, putting the finishing touches on one of his team's better nights at the charity stripe, where Manhattan made 30 of their 38 attempts in what became the Jaspers' eighth consecutive victory over the Peacocks, preserving the unbeaten streak against John Dunne's program for each member of the current roster.
Andujar finished with a game-high 21 points for the Jaspers, whose 50 percent (17-for-34) effort from the field was their best of the season despite just two offensive rebounds on the night, and Pankey finished one board shy of a double-double with 18 points and nine caroms in a performance that the former Maryland expatriate was able to dictate from the start.
"We wanted to go inside right away to him," Masiello stated. "I think he's the best big in the MAAC, back-to-the-basket player, so I wanted to establish him early, get him going, and create his presence. I thought he set the tone for the whole night."