Friday, March 4, 2016

Jaspers begin MAAC tournament with commanding win over Marist

Shane Richards' 27 points led all scorers as Manhattan started MAAC tournament with emphatic opening-round win over Marist. Jaspers advance to meet Siena in quarterfinals Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)

ALBANY, NY --  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Manhattan entered this Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament in unfamiliar territory, having to navigate the opening round for the first time under Steve Masiello when the Jaspers finished the regular season as the MAAC's No. 6 seed.

But no one would ever know the difference watching them Thursday night.

With a sensational shooting display that saw 15 of their first 17 shots go in, Manhattan (13-17) looked nothing like a No. 6 seed, dominating 11th-seeded Marist (7-23) by a comfortable 81-63 margin to set up a quarterfinal matchup against Siena on the Saints' home floor at the Times Union Center.

"I'm really proud of my guys," said Masiello after the Jaspers ended the night with a season-high 64 percent clip from the floor, making 33 of their 52 field goals. "They came, they fought. They handled it like it was a business trip, and now it's about Saturday night."

In his final MAAC tournament, Shane Richards picked up right where he last left the postseason stage, connecting on each of his first eight shots en route to a 27-point outing on 11-for-15 shooting, including a perfect 5-for-5 on three-point attempts.

"I wanted to come out and be aggressive, just set the tone for us," said Richards, who backed up his selection to the All-MAAC first team on Thursday, "but I feel like it wasn't my offensive ability, it was our defense that set the tone."

As Manhattan's blistering pace helped play a part in building a 32-9 lead midway through the first half, so too did a defensive effort that limited Marist to two field goals in their first ten attempts as the Jaspers led wire-to-wire, never leaving any doubt of the outcome.

In addition to Richards, Rich Williams and Calvin Crawford each tallied 16 points in a supporting cause, with Crawford adding eight rebounds to his stat line. Khallid Hart paced the Red Foxes with 19 markers in a losing effort.

With the win, Manhattan gets a third meeting with Siena, who defeated the Jaspers 89-54 on December 4 at the Times Union Center in a physical affair where the Saints' front line exposed Manhattan's lack of depth. The Jaspers avenged that loss one month later at Draddy Gymnasium, prevailing 92-87 in a matchup that required three overtimes to decide.

"We're basically coming in trying to take on all of Albany," Masiello quipped, previewing Saturday's quarterfinal contest, which tips off at 7 p.m. "That's what it is, and that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. Siena's earned that. We know what we're up against, but now it's a matter of us getting ready for it. That's what we have to do in the next 37 hours, is get ready for them and understand what they're capable of doing in this building."

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