Monday, February 20, 2017

Manhattan 95, Quinnipiac 74: 5 Observations

Aaron Walker's 20 points in win over Quinnipiac provided a glimpse into Manhattan's future after Jaspers honored Tyler Wilson on senior night. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- In their last home game of the regular season, Manhattan sent their faithful home with arguably their best performance of the year, a commanding 95-74 victory over Quinnipiac that provided a worthy lasting impression of Tyler Wilson; who competed in his final Draddy Gymnasium contest, before the home crowd. We leave you with our traditional handful of takeaways as the Jaspers gear up for two games on the road at Rider and Iona before taking the trip to Albany in the hopes of potentially playing a spoiler for several Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference programs' postseason hopes:

1) Aaron Walker's future may not have looked brighter than it did Sunday.
Amid all the pomp and circumstance of senior night, and a well-deserved celebration of Wilson's four years in Riverdale, it seemed only fitting that one of the younger members of the roster would showcase his talents in such a way that fans would be eager to see what he would do as his own star blossomed, and Walker did exactly that.

The Cardozo product went for a career-high 20 points against the visiting Bobcats, shooting 7-of-13 from the floor and making a pair of three-pointers, but in a Wilson-esque two-way effort, supplemented his offense with four assists and three steals in a symbolic passing of the torch.

"I will stand by this statement, and I will continue to stand by it: He's one of the most talented kids I've ever had the opportunity to coach at any level," Steve Masiello said of Walker, effusively praising his freshman guard's contributions in all facets. "He needs to understand what goes into being great at the college level. When he does, everyone better watch out. He's got a chance to be really special."

2) Ubiquitous energy.
Walker segues into this next point, as it was his six-point sequence in 20 seconds that was a microcosm of Manhattan's transition game, one that turned 22 Quinnipiac turnovers into 30 points. Walker began this cadence with a steal of Peter Kiss that turned into a conventional three-point play, and ended it with a three-pointer set up by Wilson taking advantage of a Reggie Oliver miscue. All told, it was merely an underscoring of the Jasper brand being on full display for 40 minutes, confounding the Bobcats while flying all over the floor.

"We got our energy from our defense," Masiello gushed. "Aaron had a great pick at half-court, got on the break, Calvin (Crawford) really got us going with some good rebounds and a big block. When we can feed off of our defense, that's when we have a chance to be very good. I'm really proud of our guys. They didn't panic, they didn't get tight."

3) "We'll be ready."
Manhattan has not shied away from its mantra of embracing whomever is matched up as their opponent at the Times Union Center in March, and Sunday's decisive result was a clear indicator of their mindset.

"I know the team will be ready," Masiello proclaimed. "That, I'll bet my life on. When we get on that bus and go to Albany, we will be ready to play."

With that being said, there were still lessons learned in triumph.

"Tonight, I learned a lot about our guys and our ability to play with certain guys not on the court," he continued, citing Zavier Turner being hampered by foul trouble, not to mention Ahmed Ismail and Samson Usilo seeing minimal minutes. "That really showed me a lot tonight. We made some good runs, (AK) Ojo gave us some great minutes defensively. You're always trying to learn about your team, you're always trying to learn about opportunities and see if you can get things to make you better. We understand this hasn't been a great year for us. We're the first to say that. What matters is we have to be ready for the MAAC Tournament, and that's the only way this year can be made okay."

4) Where did Quinnipiac go wrong?
Two weeks ago, the Bobcats were .500 in conference play and threatening to lock up a first-round bye after a stirring comeback on the road against Fairfield. Since then, however, a stretch of four losses that included an anemic offensive showing against Saint Peter's, coming up short in a shootout at Rider, and a near-comeback in the rematch with Fairfield in their game prior to Sunday has thrown a promising push off course heading into contests against Marist and Rider to conclude the regular season.

"We've lost our way defensively," head coach Tom Moore ruefully assessed. "We haven't done a very good job at all, and our transition defense hasn't been good."

To expound upon Moore's point, Sunday was the ninth time in eleven games where Quinnipiac surrendered 80 or more points to their opponent, and the third straight of 89 or more, something the Bobcats must address before they descend on Albany.

"We've been punched in the face in the last four," Moore bluntly observed. "We have to find some kind of defensive identity. We've got to get some kind of defensive toughness back."

5) Leading the charge.
His 26 points led all scorers, but Zane Waterman made an impact that did not show up in the box score, drawing a pair of offensive fouls and showing no qualms about getting physical to preserve Manhattan's lead down the stretch, which endeared him to his coach.

"It's one of the things that we talk about," Masiello said with regard to drawing and taking charges, further highlighting that Waterman and Wilson have a greater penchant for it by virtue of having been indoctrinated in a championship culture during their formative years in the program. "A charge, I think, is the most selfless play there is. It's the epitome of playing good team basketball and good team defense. You're going to physically put your body on the line for your team, and we've got to get other guys doing that."

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