Calvin Crawford recorded double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds as Manhattan defeated Harvard to move to 2-0 heading to Gulf Coast Showcase. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)
RIVERDALE, NY -- An 18-point lead in the first half gave way to a six-point deficit with just over six minutes remaining in regulation, but Manhattan was able to recover, scoring 10 of the next 12 points thereafter to defeat Harvard by a 73-69 final tally, winning their second straight contest to open 2017-18. With that said, here is the first edition of observations of the young season as the Jaspers leave Draddy Gymnasium and head to Florida for three games in the Gulf Coast Showcase:
1) Calvin predestined to make an impact?
Calvin Crawford, in his first full season as a starter with the Jaspers, has shown his ability to change games early and often, even in a small two-game sample size. The 6-foot-8 senior chipped in with 11 points and five rebounds against St. Francis Brooklyn Wednesday, and improved upon that with a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double against a Harvard team against whom he exploited a mismatch in the first half.
"I think he's benefitting from playing with really good players," Steve Masiello said of Crawford's beginning to the season. "I think that's when you notice him, because you forget about Calvin. We have all these guys, and then oh, by the way, here's Calvin cleaning up scraps and going by guys and making plays. He's really doing a good job of defensive rebounding, that's what I'm most proud about. He has to learn when he's making some shots to put it on the floor and go by people, because he should get to the rim and the foul line more. We've got to get him to play a little more aggressive."
"He's multi-dimensional," Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker reflected, praising Crawford, who had 14 points and seven rebounds in the first half. "They posted him up on a big possession out of the timeout and he came through with a three-point play, so I just think he's a very versatile offensive player. His threes really hurt us, and I thought he did a fantastic job."
2) "I thought Rhamel Brown was back."
That was Masiello's assessment of Rich Williams' leadership in timeouts during the second half, as Harvard erased the Jaspers' 18-point lead with a commanding 37-13 run. Manhattan's 2-0 start is largely attributed to the impact and heart of Williams, something that was greatly lacking as he missed the entire season last year.
"He doesn't panic," Masiello said of the fifth-year senior, who is the most experienced player not just on the Manhattan roster, but also in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. "I literally was in the timeouts and I thought Rhamel Brown was back, and he's like, 'Everyone, just relax, calm down. We're gonna win the game, let's defend, get stops, play by play,' and I was like, 'I'm gonna hire this kid. He sounds like a good coach.'"
"I say it all the time: It's a blessing just to be out there with the guys," said Williams, who led all scorers with 20 points three days after scoring 21 against St. Francis Brooklyn, reaching the 20-point plateau in consecutive games for the first time since November 2015, when he turned the trick against George Mason and Fordham. "More importantly than anything, it's all about defense. I'm trying to get in that defensive mindset and just coming off a hot start, 2-0, all the work we put in, like the 5:30 a.m. (practices), getting after it every day, it's just a relief. We do know that we've got more work that we need to do to get where we need to be."
3) On Aaron Walker's maturation:
The sophomore and former Cardozo standout was inconsistent at times on the defensive end in his rookie season, but still showed flashes of brilliance and the ability to be a star player in this program before he calls it a career in Riverdale. On Saturday, Walker's defense was ultimately what helped win the game for the Jaspers, as he spent the majority of his 23 minutes diving for loose balls, pressuring Harvard's Bryce Aiken and immersing himself in the culture that has become the epitome of Manhattan basketball over the years.
"I guess I've improved a lot," a modest Walker assessed of his renewed defensive prowess. "It's something I've been working on this whole summer, ever since the last game we lost in the MAAC Tournament. I got in the gym, got with the coaches and kept working."
"I'm really proud of his growth," Masiello echoed. "From a maturity standpoint, I think last year, this was a game where early in the game if a couple of things didn't go his way or if he didn't get a call, we might have lost him. We were talking a lot about a team ego, and I think he's really bought into team ego. He won the last game for us with a dig, the ball goes down the post and he slaps it loose. Tonight, he had two big plays on Bryce, getting in front of him and turning him. His mentality is going in the right direction. He's got a lot of work to do, but we're happy with where he is right now."
The matchup with Aiken, a Top 100 recruit and star at The Patrick School before signing with Harvard, was of particular interest for Walker, who was playfully reminded by his coach about the task at hand.
"The first thing Coach said when he saw me was Bryce was looking for me," Walker quipped. "I just came here with the mindset to do whatever I had to do to win."
4) A character-building win for the Jaspers:
As noted, last season's Manhattan team may have struggled with a team of Harvard's caliber, especially once the Crimson pulled ahead. But on this day, the Jaspers' resilient front and ability to play through adversity helped secure a victory that will shape the foundation of a team picked second in the MAAC during the conference portion of the schedule, where higher expectations will be placed in front of them.
"We're where we should be," Masiello revealed before Manhattan competes in the Gulf Coast Showcase, playing three games in as many days in a tournament setting. "We have a lot of work to do if we want to do the things we talk about privately as an organization, but I'm really proud of how they've handled themselves in the tests we've had. I think they've handled themselves very well."
5) Déjà vu?
The last time Manhattan was 2-0 to open a season was in 2013-14, when the Jaspers went on the road and prevailed in double overtime against La Salle before George Beamon's last-second heroics wrapped up a victory at Columbia that was marked by the team riding the No. 1 train to and from Levien Gymnasium. The records may be the same four years later, but with the ultimate end game still four months away, the similarities thus far bear a striking parallel.
"It's crazy," said Williams, who was a freshman on the 2013-14 team that ended up winning a MAAC championship and nearly upsetting Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. "We went to overtime in the last game, and that happened our first game against La Salle. The following game was a little different, we played against Columbia and George tipped it in the final seconds. Today, we were up a lot of points but we came back, so just to see us fight back, it was similar in that sense, that adversity we faced. It's a good start, a good stepping stone in the right direction."