Saturday, January 14, 2017

Manhattan 76, Rider 73: 5 Observations

Zane Waterman's 35 points were highest total in a single game under Steve Masiello. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Winless in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play at the start of the week, Manhattan has now picked up two consecutive victories to get right back into the conference race, their latest coming in a 76-73 thriller over Rider Friday night. As the Jaspers now gear up for a visit from Iona to conclude their three-game homestand, we leave you with the standard handful of takeaways from a contest at Draddy Gymnasium that head coach Steve Masiello said resembled signs of a vintage Jasper performance:

1) In-Zane.
Zane Waterman's 35 points were not only a career best for the junior forward, the total also became the most productive output for any Manhattan player since Masiello assumed the reins of the program in 2011. Waterman's total eclipsed the previous high of 34, set by George Beamon against George Washington on November 16, 2013 in the home opener of a season that ended with the Jaspers nearly upsetting Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. Later that year, Michael Alvarado also had a 33-point effort against Marist.

Waterman was not only explosive, he was also efficient, shooting 10-of-17 from the floor and 12-of-15 at the free throw line. His personal 9-0 run to seize the lead down the stretch in the second half was also reminiscent of Manhattan's game-ending 9-0 rally against Rider a year ago, a spurt keyed by then-senior Shane Richards, and although he deflected praise for his outing after the game, it made up for a lackluster game Tuesday against Niagara, where foul trouble cost him all but three minutes of the second half as the Jaspers came back from an 11-point deficit to post their first league win of the season.

2) The back-to-back wins are nice now, but...
According to Masiello, they are simply a means to justify the end game of hoisting a third MAAC championship trophy in four seasons come March 6 at the Times Union Center.

"I didn't like Fairfield," the coach admitted in the wake of a January 5 loss to the Stags. "I didn't recognize our team, period. Everything else, we're going in the right direction. That's what matters. You hope that equates to winning, and we have great faith over our years here that we know it does in February and March. You can't argue that. The numbers speak for themselves."

3) "One way or another, I'm gonna get you there."
Very few coaches have proven as consistently effective as Masiello in getting their players to buy into their vision and system, and the architect of a back-to-back league champion illustrated his latest undertaking Friday night.

"We are known for being one of the hardest-playing teams in the country," he began. "I don't think we were there certain nights this year. That's an indictment on me, and I said to them very nicely, 'one way or another, I'm gonna get you there.'"

"These guys will tell you: Walkthrough today was a full-fledged practice," he continued. "At halftime, we were doing push-ups. The message is going to get through one way or another. They could make it very hard on themselves, or they could just start playing hard and we'll get there."

4) Missed opportunity for the visitors.
Rider came into Friday's contest in sole possession of first place in the MAAC, winning four of their first five games, including an overtime victory on the road against preseason favorite Monmouth on December 31. But a stretch where two technical fouls in 12 seconds trimmed a nine-point lead to two, coupled with Waterman's star turn in the second half, left the Broncs with a taste of what could have been.

"I felt like we missed a lot of layups, a lot of free throws, and we didn't play smart down the stretch," head coach Kevin Baggett told The Trentonian's Kyle Franko. "You've got to come here with the right mindset when you play these guys, and when you don't, that's what happens."

Although the Broncs shot 40 percent from the floor for the night, they managed just a 35 percent clip after halftime, and their struggles from the foul line only magnified themselves as the night wore on. Rider finished 17-for-29 at the charity stripe. By comparison, Waterman and Zavier Turner were 24-for-29 on their own as part of a 28-for-35 collective result for Manhattan.

5) It's just another game.
The Manhattan-Iona rivalry always has its share of juice, regardless of how both teams are performing, and the potential for a milestone is there Tuesday night, as a Manhattan win would be the 100th of Masiello's career. Yet for all the pomp and circumstance between the two, the Jaspers are preparing just like they would anybody else.

"Unfortunately or fortunately, it only counts as one win or one loss," Masiello said, downplaying the significance of the rivalry in a similar vein to how he handled the Battle of the Bronx against Fordham, focusing on the task at hand rather than getting caught up in hype. "It's a rivalry game, they are what they are. We're not going to get up different for Iona than we do Rider. Each game is what it is. It's an opportunity for us to represent our college, do things the right way, and get better."

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