Following three-point loss to Iona, Manhattan may be four games behind conference-leading Gaels, but Steve Masiello still sees light at the end of Jaspers' tunnel. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College Athletics)
Manhattan's latest loss may have been among the more agonizing of the season, but the setback has not stopped Steve Masiello from believing that his vision of the Jaspers putting it all together will come to fruition.
"We've had some tough losses," he said in the wake of Manhattan's 70-67 defeat at the hands of MAAC leader Iona at Draddy Gymnasium in a late Friday evening tipoff that ended in the early hours of Saturday morning. "I looked at us, we were 4-1 last year in overtime games. This year, we were 1-3; we lost to Rider twice in overtime, we lost to UMass in overtime, we beat Saint Peter's. We've had some tough losses. It actually reminds me of the Iona team two years ago, that stumbled down the stretch a little."
That Iona team Masiello referenced ultimately recovered to win their final two games of the regular season before emerging from the MAAC Tournament to steal the conference championship and reach a second straight NCAA Tournament under Tim Cluess. But before the Gaels rediscovered their stride, they endured a stretch of six losses in seven games, each by three points or less, and by a grand total of 11 points overall.
"I kind of see that," Masiello proposed before his Jaspers attempt to put the Iona game and sellout crowd behind them to take on a Fairfield team this afternoon that will be playing to escape the bottom three in the league standings. The Stags defeated Manhattan in the first meeting between the two schools this season, a 67-54 win on December 5 in Bridgeport that saw guard Marcus Gilbert make a variety of shots in the second half to salt away a victory while the Jaspers had difficulty getting players not named Ashton Pankey involved.
However, fortunes have changed for the Stags since the victory in what was the MAAC opener for both Fairfield and Manhattan. Since starting league play 2-0 by following the win over the Jaspers with a scintillating comeback victory against in-state rival Quinnipiac, the Stags have won just twice since then, with close losses of their own against the likes of Marist, Monmouth, (twice) Rider and the same Quinnipiac team that the Stags upended in December. While Manhattan carries a 12-12 record and 9-6 mark in MAAC play; both of which are significantly ahead of Fairfield, they, too, have fallen victim to a combination of timely shooting from the opposition and an incredible amount of parity in the always unpredictable MAAC. Amid all the hard bounces, though, the captain of the S.S. Jasper remains firm in his belief that everything is coming together at the right time as Manhattan makes its final push to maintain its spot among the ranks of the league's elite heading into the first weekend in March, with his team's performances against the three teams the Jaspers currently look up at in the conference standings being indicators of upward mobility.
"We're a play or two away," Masiello confidently stated, "and we'll get it. Again, I think, and I've said this, it's about how we're playing against the top of the league. Do I want to see Iona again? No. Do I want to see Rider again? No, I don't want to see a lot of these teams again, but I don't know if they're begging for us, either. I think there's a lot of room for improvement on our end, and hopefully we can capitalize on that because I'm sure we'll be bumping into them."