Friday, December 23, 2016

Manhattan 81, Eastern Kentucky 54: 5 Observations

Steve Masiello and Manhattan wrap up non-conference schedule with wins in three of last four games, last of which being Thursday's rout of Eastern Kentucky. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

As Manhattan concluded the non-conference portion of its schedule with an 81-54 thrashing of Eastern Kentucky for their third win in four games, we leave you with a handful of takeaways from Draddy Gymnasium as the Jaspers now ready themselves for Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play, which resumes at Marist on January 2:

1) Another stellar defensive effort.
In Manhattan's recent 3-1 stretch, all three victories have seen the Jaspers hold their opponent to 54 points or less, and 37 percent or lower from the floor. In some ways, the longtime calling card in Riverdale resembles the late-season resilience of the 2015 MAAC championship unit; especially against an Eastern Kentucky team who entered Thursday's contest averaging 78 points per game, but it is still in its rudimentary stages at this point.

"I'd grade us at a C right now, with a lot of work to do," head coach Steve Masiello assessed, even as his team recorded a double-digit steal total for the second straight game and held the Colonels to just 24 points after halftime. Calvin Crawford, a freshman on the aforementioned title team but a critical role player nonetheless, echoed that sentiment.

"It's just not as consistent as that year," Crawford admitted before quickly adding "we'll get that in time." "When we've got five guys with one ball talking and doing what we do, we could lock up anybody."

2) For one night at least, free throw inefficiency was put to rest.
The Jaspers came into Thursday's game shooting just 67 percent from the foul line as a team, but proceeded to defy those numbers throughout the evening, making their first 21 attempts from the charity stripe before finishing with a more than respectable 26-for-30 mark, good enough for an 87 percent conversion rate.

"We should be a great free throw shooting team," Masiello conceded while attributing the struggles to early-season jitters. "Even Ahmed, (Ismail) who's shooting 44 percent on the year, is a good free throw shooter. Believe it or not, I think we have a lot of guys who are nervous. I just think when you're playing so many inexperienced guys, they need to go through some games to get there."

3) Sharing and controlling.
Manhattan moved the ball well in victory, tallying 18 assists on 24 made field goals for a 75 percent assist rate to complement 54 percent shooting from the floor. More significant, though, is the cutdown of turnovers in the second half. After committing a dozen miscues in the opening stanza, the Jaspers only gave the ball away four times the rest of the night, adjusting to Eastern Kentucky's physical defense; somewhat of a mirror image of Manhattan's in-your-face style, which is no coincidence given head coach Dan McHale's own rich lineage in the Rick Pitino coaching tree and his having served along with Masiello as an assistant under another equally gifted full court pressure wizard in Bobby Gonzalez. Regardless, Masiello praised the effort by reminding his team of the challenge he issued in practice this week.

"It was Christmas or no Christmas," he quipped. "You could turn it over, but we'll be practicing at 7 a.m. tomorrow. It's up to you."

Fortunately for the Jasper players, it appears as though their holiday will be enjoyed without interruption, as Masiello declared the team would get back to work on Monday to prepare for Marist and the continuation of conference play.

4) Two freshman facilitators.
As Zavier Turner was held to just eight points, which he scored entirely at the foul line amid attempting just two field goals, (he was unsuccessful on both) Na'Quan Council and Aaron Walker took over the responsibility of setting up the Jasper offense.

Known more for being a shooter and scorer, respectively; Council and Walker were responsible for 11 of the 18 Manhattan assists, and supplemented their deft passing with 12 points each. Council's career-high point total also included five steals in the first of what should be many attention-grabbing games for the New Jersey native.

"I'm really proud of Na'Quan," Masiello proclaimed. "Five assists and one turnover as a freshman is phenomenal. We have a multitude of guys that if you push up and get in the lane, we can make plays. We call it guys being playmakers, and that's something we weren't doing. We got our challenged shot numbers down now, and that's why you're seeing us shoot 68 percent offense in the second half. Now we're hitting our corners, our slot drives, and we're playing good basketball. That's how we're getting good offensive distribution."

5) Maturity on the offensive front.
Masiello addressed the construction status of the offense in his postgame press conference, even stating Crawford was an all-league player, but needed to be more selfish at times to prove his capabilities against opposing teams. On the whole, the coach offered this assessment on the scoring end of the basketball:

"I want to see, when you have a nine-point lead, play it 0-0," he intimated. "Lock in. When you have a chance to take somebody, you've got to take them out. You can't let people linger, because when they linger, they think 'we're okay, we survived that.' We don't know how to do that right now. Those runs against Monmouth, you don't come back from that. At Siena, you don't come back from that, at Iona, you don't come back from that. It's not about who we play tonight, it's about we're preparing to win a championship. I want to see us play everything 0-0. When we can start doing that, then this team, maturity-wise, is where we want to be."

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