Saturday, November 19, 2016

Manhattan 80, Hofstra 68: 5 Observations

Zavier Peart's near-perfect night gave Manhattan advantage in the paint and on scoreboard as Jaspers defeated Hofstra. (Photo by Newsday)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Manhattan's 80-68 victory over Hofstra Friday night at Draddy Gymnasium kept two streaks intact.

First, head coach Steve Masiello remained undefeated against the Pride, winning his fourth game in as many attempts against the school that Jasper senior Rich Williams once committed to. Second, the victory ensures that Manhattan once again avoids what would have been Masiello's first-ever 0-3 start to a season since his hire in 2011.

With a win on their ledger and a deceptively strong non-conference battle with Temple looming this Sunday, we leave you with the latest handful of observations from a 40-minute performance that ranks as the most complete game played by the young and retooling Jasper squad to date, while also shedding light on Hofstra's future:

1) "He's 2.0"
Masiello gushed about Zavier Peart's transformation on top of the 16 points his junior forward scored to lead Manhattan on the scoreboard. "He's a new person," the coach proclaimed. "It's like Kobe (Bryant) and the Black Mamba, there's an alpha-male in him that just came out. He changed himself, and I give him credit. We gave him the blueprint, and he follows it."

Peart doubled down on Masiello's assessment, and even admitted that his coming-out party was his most productive game in recent memory.

"At Eastern Florida, I would say," he responded when asked of his last major success. "Last year. But today, what made me step up was Coach telling me to change. I just had to step up."

2) Friday's transition effort was a stark contrast from Tuesday morning.
The Jaspers were thrust into the role of chasing the uptempo Winthrop attack up and down the floor in their previous outing, but on this night, it was the home team that dictated the terms against Hofstra, shooting 54 percent from the floor and converting 15 Pride turnovers into 24 points. "We didn't beat ourselves as much," said Masiello. "I was happy with the little things. We made some adjustments with our ball containment and our five men stepping up early. We did a good job in that area, but we didn't beat ourselves."

3) Manhattan's three-pronged rim protector attack makes them much more formidable down low.
Again, what a difference a year makes. Gone is the team bereft of frontcourt depth, one that was a liability in the paint. In its place stands a team with three forwards capable of banging under the boards, freeing up Zane Waterman (15 points, nine rebounds in a very understated effort) to play his natural position as a stretch four and pick-and-pop shooter. The problem for Masiello is, though, that all three have yet to fire on all cylinders simultaneously.

"It's great when you have that depth, that talent; but more than anything, that mindset," he said of being able to use his combination of Peart, Ahmed Ismail and AK Ojo. "We have three guys who are willing to bang, get physical and use 15 fouls, so I love it when we play defense, because we can put a lot of pressure on the perimeter, push you into the paint, and then we'll challenge you when you get on the glass."

"We've had bigs like Rhamel (Brown) and Ashton (Pankey) that have had true success," he continued. "We're back to having that again, so I'm very fortunate."

4) Rokas Gustys' early foul trouble was seen from two different perspectives.
For the Jaspers, having Hofstra's Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year contender relegated to the bench for an extended stretch was a factor that ultimately tipped the scales in their favor, allowing them to use their size advantage to create mismatches that allowed their guards to penetrate and look for smart, efficient shots. "I think it was the difference in the game for us that we could keep a big body in there affecting their drives," Masiello said of Gustys' hiatus. "They're great off the bounce, and they have guys that can get in there. I thought we affected some of their shots late in the game."

The man on the opposing bench, however, saw it a different way.

"I never felt like that was a problem," said Joe Mihalich of a possible matchup problem, instead citing failure to generate effective offense as the Pride's downfall. "Give Manhattan credit, and I told the team they were going to feel like there were six guys out there. But I didn't feel like there was a matchup problem, even though they were bigger at times."

5) Hofstra's young core has the potential to be a group of valuable pieces.
Starting with the point guard tandem of Deron Powers and Desure Buie, who we will get to later, the Pride will eventually be able to replace Juan'ya Green with a pair of guards who are more than serviceable. The unsung hero for Hofstra on Friday, however, was reserve forward Hunter Sabety. 

The 6-foot-9 forward, praised by Mihalich as a high-energy bench player, was pressed into duty more than he had been in either of his first two games as a result of Gustys racking up early fouls before playing with greater discipline in the second half. "He's getting better and better," Mihalich said of Sabety's progress. "He just needs to keep playing the games and getting confidence."

With regard to the backcourt, not only was Manhattan's pressure a harbinger of things to come in CAA play; where Hofstra will face a number of suffocating defenses, namely reigning league champion UNC Wilmington, but also one of where the team stands in finding a permanent successor to Green.

"We're still trying to figure that out," Mihalich conceded, mentioning both Powers and Buie in the title of floor general. "Deron and Desure, you think they're going to play about 20 minutes, and you're going to get a lot of good numbers out of the both of them. We're still trying to find that role, but it's a good question. It's the post-Juan'ya Green era now."

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