Monday, February 2, 2015

Manhattan 87, Monmouth 76: 10 Observations

A 27-point performance from Emmy Andujar places him firmly in conversation for MAAC Player of the Year honors. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Fuhrmann of the Manhattan College Quadrangle)

In honor of yesterday's Super Bowl, here is a belated, super-sized list of observations and nuggets of note from Manhattan's 87-76 win over Monmouth, the Jaspers' third straight victory:
  • Emmy Andujar.
Simply put, the senior from the Bronx was at his best Sunday afternoon, and the only hurdle that kept him from setting a career-high point total was fouling out with 2:27 to go. Andujar ended his day with 27 points, one marker shy of his personal best of 28, set last February against Iona. Even more astounding was his ability to score the 27 on just ten shots from the field, relying on drawing fouls and an 11-of-15 effort at the free throw line to bolster his totals. With all due respect to A.J. English and David Laury of Iona, and maybe Quinnipiac's Zaid Hearst, each of whom hold a viable claim to a title among the MAAC's elite, no player is as valuable to their team or their position as Andujar; who not only does a little bit of everything inside and outside the box score, but also recognizes when to step back and allow his teammates to make contributions that are needed more than his own. Let's put it this way: If the season ended today and Andujar was not in the mix as the MAAC Player of the Year, it would come as somewhat of a surprise to us, and his head coach echoes our sentiment. "In my opinion," Steve Masiello started his defense of Andujar, "I love David Laury, I love A.J., a lot of guys I like, but for me, if Emmy's not right there with those guys, for him not to be in the conversation every day, I question the credibility of people who are doing this job," he boldly declared.
  • For all the talk of finding a third or fourth scoring option...
The Jaspers may have found one in RaShawn Stores. Lightly regarded in opposing scouting reports due to the presence of Andujar, Shane Richards and Ashton Pankey, Stores is quietly torching the nets on a regular basis, and providing stellar ball handling to set the tone for a deceptively strong Manhattan offense to boot. The senior point guard registered nine points, all from three-point range yesterday, and matched that number with a career-high nine assists. In his last six games, Stores is averaging 4.5 assists per game and validating that number with a scorching 55 percent clip from downtown. Furthermore, in MAAC play, Stores has amassed 45 helpers against just 13 turnovers, good enough for a 3.46:1 assist to turnover ratio.
  • "That's our 'C' game."
That was how Masiello described the on-court product, admitting there were stretches that were not perfect, but in his postgame interview, associate head coach Matt Grady called the first half; which included a total of 19 deflections from the Jaspers, the team's best defensive stanza of the year. "If we can get that to our 'A' game by March 1," Masiello proposed, "I think we have a chance. If we're playing that type of basketball, I think we're a tough out, we're a good team."
  • Monmouth may not have come away with a win, but the Hawks were still impressive.
In much the same way that Andrew Luck took a major step toward becoming one of the best active quarterbacks in the NFL even after losing handily to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, the same could be said of Monmouth, who; for the third time in their last four meetings with Manhattan, battled the Jaspers much harder than the final score let on. "Today's a disappointing day for how we played," head coach King Rice assessed, "but it's not the end of the world. We're a team that's trying to become one of the best teams in the MAAC. You can't do that without beating one of the best teams in the MAAC, and Manhattan has been one of the best teams for a while. We're trying to come up and be in their area. Today, they showed us that we weren't ready to be in their area yet, and as a man, you've got to shake their hand and accept it, and then go back to work and see what we can do to get closer."
  • If there were an award for Most Improved Player in the MAAC...
The frontrunner on that list would be Justin Robinson. The sophomore spark plug had another warrior-like showing, fighting his way to 19 points to lead four Hawks in double figures, including Austin Tilghman and Chris Brady off the bench. Robinson said before the game that "no one man does it alone" when asked about scoring, but with an average of 16.5 points over his last six contests, the second-year stud is picking up more of the pieces than some others.
  • King Rice on facing Manhattan again should the two teams play one another in next month's MAAC Tournament:
"I pray that we get to play them again, because we'll stand up at least. We stood up last week, that's why it's a good game. They're not that much better than us."
  • Steve Masiello when asked the same question about facing Monmouth again:
"I couldn't be happier to sweep Monmouth, but I don't want to see them in the MAAC Tournament. I equate it to us against Quinnipiac, (last year) it's like 'okay, you know how hard it is to keep your team up to play a team you beat twice, who you know how good they are?' I know how good Monmouth is, but human nature is, you relax, you let your guard down. Now, Monmouth, those kids, they hate us, they should hate us. They are starving to see us, so now the mental part of the game swings to them, especially in a one-game deal. For me, I don't want to see Monmouth again. They're terrific, I think they're the best team, all-around team. I think from one to ten, I think Monmouth's the best team, because there's not a guy you could come out, you've got to come out and stop Emmy, you've got to stop David (Laury) and A.J. (English) They're a team. One to ten, I think they're terrific, and I have a lot of respect for them."
  • The stakes get raised higher for both sides.
For Monmouth, a battle with former Northeast Conference rival Quinnipiac awaits Thursday night in Hamden, while Manhattan faces arguably their biggest game of the season against a Canisius team that is comprised of a unit whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, similar to Monmouth. "You can't have a letdown," Masiello advised. "This win is terrific, but only if you take care of business on Friday. You can't have a phenomenal win like this and have any type of letdown come Friday night, so Friday becomes a bigger game for us."
  • Some postgame stats and trends:
Manhattan is now 9-0 when leading at halftime this season, and 8-1 when posting 70 points or more. In addition, Emmy Andujar eclipsed the 20-point plateau for the eighth time this season, and is now averaging 20.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game over his last eight contests, shooting 55 percent from the field in that span. Moreover, the Jaspers are 29-for-59 from three-point range in their last three games, and have won nine of their last twelve since a 65-56 loss to Pittsburgh on December 17 at the Petersen Center. Finally, in February and March, dating back to 2014, Manhattan is 12-2, with both losses (to Siena and Louisville) coming by a grand total of only 11 points.
  • Manhattan's aggression and stamina drew a different source of motivation, and it paid off.
Steve Masiello's pregame preparation yesterday had an unusual wrinkle: He showed his players a Discovery Channel documentary on lions in the locker room yesterday, reminding the Jaspers that the kings of the jungle do not wait to attack, but rather go out for the kill. The reigning crown-bearers in the MAAC received the message, opening up a nearly insurmountable 18-point lead at halftime that soon became a 25-point cushion before a Monmouth run tested the Jaspers and forced them to weather the storm, something the leader of the Manhattan pack was ultimately satisfied with. "You're not going to knock us out," Masiello proclaimed, "so you've got to kill us. And if you don't kill us, you're going to be in for it, because knocking us down isn't going to do anything, hitting us isn't going to do anything. You have to kill us. You have to take Manhattan, stab us in our hearts, and make sure the body, mind, and soul is all dead, because if there's an ounce of breath left in us, we're going to get you."

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