Shane Richards rebounded from Friday's loss to Iona with 28 points as Manhattan returned to winning ways against Rider. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
RIVERDALE, NY -- In the 1993 film "Groundhog Day," Bill Murray's character relives the same day over and over again.
One game into the second month of the year, Manhattan College looks as if they may be ready to hit their best stride once again en route to what would be a third consecutive conference championship.
Coming off an uncharacteristically lackluster offensive effort last Friday at Iona, the Jaspers (9-11, 6-5 MAAC) put another tally in the win column Tuesday night, scoring the final nine points of the night to close out a 65-57 victory over Rider (9-14, 5-7 MAAC) for Manhattan's third triumph in its last four attempts.
"For me, the win is huge, but I'm just happy with the way we played," said Steve Masiello as Manhattan's 9-0 run harkened back to the exact same outburst the Jaspers used in a comeback victory against Monmouth on January 21, also at Draddy Gymnasium. "I didn't recognize us at Iona, and you have to give Iona credit for that. Tonight, I liked us, I recognized us. I liked our grit, I liked our fight, I liked our focus, and that led to some good things."
Shane Richards, whose 28 points led all scorers, was the catalyst behind the game-changing spurt, stretching the Jasper lead to four points on a three-pointer he pushed in from the right arc with 2:18 remaining in regulation, making the score 61-57 before he sank a pair of free throws nearly a minute later. In preparing his troops for their come-from-behind rally, the message from the senior leader was a simple one.
"Just get one stop at a time," Richards implored his teammates. "We knew the offense would come late. Really, we had to take away Teddy, (Okereafor, 19 points) because he's a really good player. He was killing us in the first half and we knew we had to take him out, especially late in the game, because we knew they were going to go to him. I think we did a great job just getting stops at the end of the game."
"Shane Richards put himself in a Player of the Year status tonight," Masiello added, a tangible sense of pride echoing through his compliments. "I don't think I've ever been on a player as hard as I was after the Iona game as I was on Shane Richards. It's a tribute him, a testimony to his character and what he's about, the way he responded, because a lot of kids would have pouted. Shane responded like I hoped he would."
Manhattan got off to a fast start, leading 12-4 nearly seven minutes into the contest, but runs of 9-2 and 10-2 by the visiting Broncs swung the pendulum to the side of the visitors, who led by a slim 27-26 margin at halftime. The second half was a seesaw battle, with neither side leading by more than four points until Richards' aforementioned free throws with 1:27 on the clock turned a nip-and-tuck four-point game into a more comfortable six-point cushion. Rider had led, 57-56, after a jumper by Zedric Sadler with 3:25 to play, but Rich Williams' basket on the ensuing possession gave the Jaspers the lead for good.
"They did a good job," Rider head coach Kevin Baggett said of Manhattan. "They made baskets when they needed it, and we didn't. We had some close shots we just couldn't make we needed, and then we missed some free throws at the end. In the first half, we were moving it, but in the second half, we just got too stagnant."
With the score 63-57 in favor of the Jaspers, and 38.1 seconds remaining, a minor fracas occurred when Zane Waterman and Khalil Alford contested a rebound, nearly spurring on extracurricular activities. Both players received technical fouls, while Sadler and Josh Williams were ejected for leaving the Rider bench.
"I was trying to get the rebound," Waterman, who finished with 12 points and seven boards, firmly stated. "That's all I was trying to do."
What Manhattan did do was get a much-needed win going into another pivotal matchup on Sunday, when the Jaspers travel to Bridgeport to take on a Fairfield team that is much improved this year despite their 6-6 conference record.
"I wouldn't say it was a 'must-win,'" Masiello conceded, "but it's a great confidence win in February, because this is the time of the year we want to start playing our best basketball."