Calvin Crawford's career-high 14 points led four Jaspers in double figures as Manhattan picked up first conference win of season in 72-66 victory over Fairfield. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College Athletics)
RIVERDALE, NY -- To those who are ambivalent to Manhattan College, Steve Masiello may sound like a broken record whenever he reminds fans and media to trust the process.
The Jaspers' 2016 opener, however, served as yet another indicator of the coach's foresight, even if it is merely a blip on the radar screen in the grand scheme of things.
Aided by four scorers in double figures and a commanding 46-22 advantage in points in the paint, Manhattan (4-8, 1-2 MAAC) overcame a Fairfield team befallen by lackluster free throw shooting and consistent scoring, defeating the Stags (6-6, 1-2 MAAC) 72-66 in the Jaspers' first game of the calendar year at Draddy Gymnasium.
"I think anytime you can hold a team like Fairfield to 39 percent and hold their offense to 66 (points) the way they've been scoring the basketball, I think that's a great job," Masiello assessed. "We won the battle of the backboards, turned them over 18 times, had 10 steals. The thing I'm the most happy with is we took away the three, held them to 22 attempts on 31 percent."
Calvin Crawford, Rich Williams, and Zane Waterman, the former two doing so off the bench, ended the evening in a three-way tie for team-high scoring honors, with 14 points apiece. Marcus Gilbert's 23 led Fairfield in the losing effort, with Tyler Nelson accounting for 19 as the Stags fought valiantly despite an 11-for-21 performance at the charity stripe.
"It just killed us," said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson of his team's free throw woes. "I told the guys we've been a very good free throw shooting team, a very good three-point shooting team and a pretty good assist team, and we weren't good in all three of those areas. But I know that we have good days ahead of us."
Fairfield led for the majority of what was a nip-and-tuck first half, even taking a 33-31 lead into the locker room when RaShawn Stores' midcourt runner at the buzzer was ruled to have not left his hands before the horn. The Stags jumped on the accelerator in the opening minutes of the second stanza with a 7-2 run, but a 12-0 Jasper run capped off by a Crawford layup set up by a nifty feed from the seated position by freshman Tom Capuano, put Manhattan ahead by a 45-41 count with 14:16 remaining in regulation.
The visiting Stags surged ahead briefly several minutes later, as a Nelson three and two Gilbert free throws shifted the lead back to Fairfield with 8:42 to play, but an 8-2 Manhattan spurt gave the Jaspers an advantage they would not relinquish as Fairfield missed all but one of their last nine field goal attempts, and each of their final four foul shots.
Next up for Manhattan is a Siena team who defeated the Jaspers by 35 points in their first meeting on December 4 at the Times Union Center, but the Saints are now without the services of Marquis Wright, who is nursing a stress fracture in his foot. Regardless, the two-time reigning MAAC champions know the terrain, and are not deviating from what made them a winner even after non-conference play was not kind to their win-loss record.
"We were in the exact same boat last year," Masiello reflected. "We just lost to Niagara a year ago today, we were 1-2, (in MAAC play) we had Canisius and we found a way to gut that out. That's what we've got to do Monday, playing probably one of the hottest teams in this conference right now in Siena, who just took it to us up there. We know we have a lot of work to do, but we're just going to continue to do what we do and go from there."