Saturday, November 19, 2016

Career nights from Walker, Peart guide Manhattan to first win of season

Making his first career start, Aaron Walker tallied 15 points and six rebounds as Manhattan defeated Hofstra for first win of season. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- The need for the young core of Manhattan's roster to develop seasoning and readiness to compete was the top priority for Steve Masiello after a humbling loss Tuesday morning.

Three days later, the sixth-year head coach's message was received.

Behind Zavier Peart's team-high 16 points and the 15 markers posted by freshman Aaron Walker, the Jaspers saw four of their own reach double-figure scoring totals in recording their first win of the season, an 80-68 victory over Hofstra at Draddy Gymnasium that helped the team avoid starting 0-3 for what would have been the first time in Masiello's tenure.

"I thought it was a good win for us, more so for the guys," said Masiello on an evening that saw Manhattan (1-2) play arguably their best basketball of the young season in a number of facets. "I think they needed to feel good about themselves, and winning always helps."

Illustrating the return of the depth that has become the Jaspers' calling card in recent years, Peart emerged from the crowd to become the breakout star on Friday, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the first half and converting each of his first eight field goal attempts, taking advantage of Hofstra's Rokas Gustys being plagued by foul trouble.

"I feel like it matched up in my favor," the junior college transfer said in regard to Hofstra needing to play small ball with Gustys, their all-Colonial Athletic Association forward, on the bench. "Especially since I happened to be hot tonight, I felt like it was a great opportunity."

The opening four minutes may not have suggested that such good fortune would present itself, with Hofstra (1-2) taking an 11-4 lead through the first 4:16, using the outside shooting of freshman Eli Pemberton to seize the early initiative. But the Jaspers would regroup after the first media timeout, gaining an advantage they would never relinquish on the strength of a 19-3 run that was highlighted by Peart's emergence and the two-way play of Walker, whose first career start allowed him to atone for what he felt was failure to capitalize on making his mark in Manhattan's first two contests over the past week.

"Coming off of two losses, I felt like I wasn't doing my job," the former Cardozo High School standout said. "I felt like I could do a lot more to help the team win, so I just played as hard as I could."

Hofstra would come within two possessions on several occasions, one of which being in the waning moments of the opening stanza, whittling a 12-point lead in half before Walker beat the buzzer on a reverse layup that gave Manhattan a 42-34 cushion heading to the intermission. The Pride again pulled within six after a Justin Wright-Foreman jumper with 6:49 remaining in regulation, but were done in by a 14-4 Jasper run that put the game out of reach and left Joe Mihalich to assess the damage in candid fashion.

"We got beat by a team that played harder," the Hofstra head coach remarked. "It's as simple as that. We couldn't score, that's my fault, that's on me. We've got to figure out some ways to get better, to get people scoring opportunities."

Hofstra begins a stretch of four games in five days on Monday when they face Bradley in the Gulf Coast Classic, while Manhattan embarks upon a three-game road trip beginning Sunday in Philadelphia against a Temple team that made the NCAA Tournament last season, but is regaining its bearings after a surprising loss to New Hampshire. Regardless, the Jaspers hit the road with newfound confidence that can be the pick-me-up that the young squad needs with Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play beginning in two weeks.

"For the young guys, they need it," said Masiello of Friday's win serving as a morale booster. "They're in here giving all these hours, giving me everything they've got, and they need that. But we're going to continue to work and get back in and do what we do."

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