Shane Richards' three-point play in final seconds capped off an improbable comeback for Manhattan, who used only six players in 69-67 win over George Mason. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Fuhrmann via the Manhattan Quadrangle)
RIVERDALE, NY -- While their Jaspers remain shorthanded heading into the holiday season, Manhattan fans are no doubt thankful for the grit and tenacity of the players who have been able to don the green and white uniform amid tumultuous conditions.
Playing just six men as they continue to stave off the injury bug, Manhattan (1-2) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, erasing a 16-point deficit to come away with a 69-67 decision over George Mason (2-4) on Thanksgiving Eve at Draddy Gymnasium.
"Probably one of the guttiest performances I've seen since I've been the coach here," was how Steve Masiello initially described his team's effort after a game that looked destined to head off the rails for the Jaspers when George Mason took a 49-33 lead with 17:28 remaining in regulation. "Just from an all-out, gut-out performance, I thought this team, these six guys, just kind of like the old John Calipari teams, refused to lose and no pun, had the heart of a champion."
In a twist of fate from last season's affair between the Jaspers and Patriots, which ended on Jalen Jenkins' miraculous three-quarter court heave at the final buzzer, Shane Richards; whose missed free throw set the stage for Jenkins' heroics, converted a conventional three-point play with 1.1 seconds to go, providing the final margin of victory. A trifecta attempt from Shevon Thompson bounced off the left iron at the horn on the ensuing possession, giving Manhattan its first win after a physically taxing first two games.
"I was just praying to God we didn't have another George Mason from last year," said Richards as he revisited what turned out to be the game-winning possession. "I saw it in my head, (and) I was like, 'please, not again.'"
Deprived of the services of veterans RaShawn Stores and Carlton Allen after the two played Saturday against Bucknell, Manhattan started out in an uptempo style, turning the opening minutes into a track meet that saw a 15-14 score in favor of the home team at the first media timeout in the opening stanza. From there, George Mason was able to get a bevy of high-percentage shots against the thin and small Jasper lineup, shooting 61 percent from the field and owning a .696 effective field goal clip in the first half, en route to a 42-31 advantage going into the intermission.
After the halftime break, the Jaspers returned to their calling card, working their patented pressure defense to perfection. All told, Manhattan stymied the Patriots into a season-high 25 forced turnovers, while committing just nine miscues of their own amid the medical attrition that has gone on throughout the season.
"It's one of those things where it's not a style I like to play," Masiello prefaced the explanation to his change in tactics, "but I also want to adjust and try to play to our strengths. I thought their pace was pretty good and I wanted to pick and choose our spots where we could speed them up, and I thought we did that."
While Richards was held to a quiet 13 points, freshman Tom Capuano had his second consecutive double-figure game with 14 points, adding four assists and five steals in the process. In addition, Zane Waterman came within one point and one rebound of a double-double before fouling out with 10:48 remaining in the second half. However, on a night where the Jaspers' primary aggressor was held in check longer than any point to date in this young season, Rich Williams filled the role of leading scorer admirably, collecting a career-best 26 to lead all players on the evening as Manhattan picked up a much-needed win heading into Saturday's meeting with crosstown rival Fordham.
"Every night, I try to come out and compete," said Williams, who augmented his offense with nine rebounds and four blocked shots. "Earlier in the year, I felt like I'd been letting our team down, and especially with the amount of guys we had today, it was time for me to step up a little bit."