Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Manhattan 78, Niagara 69: 5 Observations

Steve Masiello continues to remain patient in his approach, even as Manhattan needed six games to earn first MAAC win of season. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

RIVERDALE, NY -- There is no longer a winless team in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play.

Manhattan made sure the drought ended, coming back from an 11-point deficit to upend Niagara Tuesday night, emerging victorious in a 78-69 decision over the Purple Eagles at Draddy Gymnasium. Our obligatory handful of takeaways follow as we recap some of the storylines that played out while the Jaspers got off the schneid:

1) Rich Williams: Will he or won't he?
The MAAC version of Brett Favre's famous dances with retirement received an updated twist in the plot after the game. Manhattan's senior wing, who has yet to play this season and had been rumored to be a candidate to redshirt, was brought up in Steve Masiello's postgame press conference as follows:

"We're going to talk a little bit," Masiello began, prefacing his address to Williams' availability. "I'm going to talk with our AD, and we're going to talk with Rich a little bit and make some decisions. He's full-go right now, he could play. We're going to have to make some decisions and see if he's at 100 percent and where we are, and try to make a team decision here, what's best for the young man and what's best for our program and the college."

After admittedly rushing George Beamon back sooner than he should have from an ankle injury in 2012-13, Masiello has been extra cautious in managing Williams this season, and does not want to force him into a situation he may not be ready for. Should he be redshirted, the Jaspers would lose only Tyler Wilson from their everyday rotation, and would enter the 2017-18 season as one of the more forwardly placed MAAC teams solely based on what they have returning. Keep in mind that Beamon took a medical redshirt to return in 2013-14 as a fifth-year senior, and ended up being named the MAAC Tournament's Most Valuable Player as Manhattan reached their first NCAA Tournament since 2004.

2) "We believe in we."
Sam Hinkie is no longer in the Philadelphia 76ers' front office, but his "trust the process" mantra still resonates in Riverdale as Manhattan continues to work out the kinks following an 0-5 start to league play.

"We're going to go day by day, get better," said Masiello. "We know what it takes to get to the NCAA Tournament. Everyone else is still guessing, with the exception of Iona. We'll be playing our best basketball come March, that's all that matters."

"I'd like to have a better record than I do right now," he conceded. "But we'll get there, and we'll be ready in March. I'd like to have more wins to show for it and so do these guys, but we believe in we. We're not worried about anybody else."

3) Is it starting to come together?
Zavier Turner thinks so, and the junior guard offered a possible explanation for the circuitous route the Jaspers navigated to their first conference win.

"We know the answers, like Coach said," Turner opined. "We just have mental lapses, and that's one thing we've got to correct."

If there were any mental lapses on Turner's end Tuesday, he did a stellar job concealing them, scoring 19 of his 21 points in the second half and serving as the primary aggressor in a 22-5 run that turned a 52-42 deficit into a 64-57 lead with 6:23 remaining in regulation.

4) Calvin Crawford made up for lost time.
The junior forward, making his first appearance since leaving Manhattan's January 2 loss to Marist with a sprained ankle, scored 20 points and pulled down nine rebounds off the bench, numbers that became even more integral in the winning effort when you consider that the Jaspers played the final 16:49 without Zane Waterman, who picked up his fourth foul before the first media timeout of the second half.

"If he wasn't here, it really changes the game," said Masiello of Crawford. "But when you have him, I have the luxury of having two really good four men. Obviously, we want Zane on the court, but he got a couple of careless fouls. Having Calvin and him coming in and getting nine rebounds kind of boosted our offense. I thought it was a nice complement to our depth."

5) Samson Usilo has had back-to-back solid efforts.
Coming off his first career double-double against Quinnipiac on Saturday with 12 points and 11 rebounds, the redshirt sophomore nearly turned the trick again three days later, matching his point total with a dozen more markers and grabbing nine boards to average 12 points and 10 caroms over his last two games.

"I might believe in Sammy more than anyone else in his program," said Masiello, effusively praising the comeback efforts of Usilo, just over a year removed from his second knee surgery since signing in Riverdale. "He's the hardest worker, he's the most mature, he's handled the most adversity. I will go to the end of the earth with Sammy, because he has such a strong belief in what he does."

"Imagine not writing a story for two years and then they say, 'write a story,' Masiello elaborated. "You're going to make a ton of mistakes. He's just getting into form. Every time he gets a rebound, he's gaining confidence in his body and his knee. I'm really, really proud of him."

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