Zavier Turner scored 19 of his 21 points in second half to help Manhattan erase 11-point deficit against Niagara to earn first MAAC win Tuesday. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
RIVERDALE, NY -- When facing an 0-5 start to conference play, most coaches will throw everything but the kitchen sink onto the floor, just to see if anything sticks as their teams fight through adversity.
Yet time and time again, Steve Masiello insists he is not most coaches, remaining committed to seeing a sign of struggle through to get his Manhattan program in optimum condition at just the right stage. And Tuesday night, for the first time in what had been a trying season, he received some measure of vindication.
Led by four double-figure scorers and a committed defensive effort in the second half, the Jaspers finally joined their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference brethren in the win column, coming from 11 points down to eclipse Niagara at Draddy Gymnasium, defeating the Purple Eagles by the final of 78-69.
"If I was everyone else, I'd panic," Masiello said of the winless start to MAAC play, which saw three losses by single digits and two by one possession. "We have the blueprint, we know it. That's all that matters."
"It's a great feeling," said Zavier Turner, who scored all but two of his team-leading 21 points after halftime to propel the Jaspers (6-11, 1-5 MAAC) to victory. "We've just got to build on this, starting tomorrow."
A tightly contested first half saw Niagara (5-12, 2-4 MAAC) enter the locker room with a 36-32 lead, as Manhattan once again looked like the team that had difficulty getting over the hump and traded baskets with the Purple Eagles for the majority of the opening stanza. Two quick fouls on Zane Waterman, his third and fourth of the game, within the first three minutes after the intermission seemed as if it would be a lethal blow, and the visitors took advantage when opening up a 52-42 lead with 13:34 to play in regulation. From there, however, the vaunted Jasper depth rose to the occasion.
Making his return to the lineup from an ankle injury that kept him out of the previous two games, Calvin Crawford showed no lingering effects, igniting a 15-2 run that handed Manhattan a lead it would never relinquish. The junior scored seven points in the game-changing spurt, and capped it with a three-pointer in the left corner to beat the shot clock and put the Jaspers ahead by a 57-54 margin with 9:01 remaining.
"The ankle feels pretty good," said Crawford, who ended his night with 20 points and nine rebounds, returning to the explosive form he showed before the injury, suffered at Marist on January 2. "I was getting treated three times a day, so to come back for this game and play with my team, it was the greatest feeling ever."
With regard to his dramatic trifecta, he simply heeded advice from his coach.
"All I heard was Coach saying, 'Shoot it! Shot clock!'" Crawford recounted. "Those are the easiest ones to make."
Niagara stayed within earshot for the duration of the night, but was unable to swing the pendulum back into their favor. The Purple Eagles trailed by only four points in the final minute, but Manhattan answered any semblance of a rally with a 9-2 outburst to stretch their lead into double digits to salt away a much-needed win, at least in the sense of keeping pace with the rest of the conference.
Joining Turner and Crawford in the winning cause was Tom Capuano, who scored 13 points, and Samson Usilo, who came one rebound shy of a second consecutive double-double by amassing nine boards to go with 12 points. Matt Scott's 21 markers were the primary catalyst for Niagara, albeit in a losing effort.
The Jaspers continue a three-game homestand Friday, when they entertain MAAC leader Rider, and with a win now under their belts, a renewed sense of confidence permeated the postgame air as Manhattan seeks to start a string of positive results.
"On to the next one," Crawford stated. "All it takes is one. We've got to stay with the process and build from this one."