Sunday, February 11, 2018

Manhattan 93, Monmouth 76: 5 Observations

Zane Waterman led Manhattan, and all scorers, with 28 points as Jaspers pulled away to 17-point win over Monmouth Saturday evening to maintain inside track to first-round bye in MAAC Tournament. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Two days removed from a loss at Rider in which they let a second-half lead slip through the cracks once again, Manhattan was more vigilant Saturday evening after Monmouth stole the lead with just over ten minutes to play.

A 27-8 run over the next six minutes changed that narrative, as the Jaspers; fueled by 16 points in a row from point guard Zavier Turner, seized control and never looked back en route to a 93-76 decision over Monmouth, evening their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference record at 7-7 and positioning them in a favorable spot as it relates to a potential first-round bye in next month's conference tournament, while seemingly relegating the visiting Hawks to one of the three play-in games on the first night of the postseason event in Albany.

Manhattan gets a brief hiatus before reemerging to face Quinnipiac in yet another pivotal game Thursday, whereas Monmouth returns to West Long Branch for a Tuesday night soiree against Saint Peter's, who defeated the Hawks in the first encounter between the two on New Year's Eve in Jersey City. Before either of those games tip off, though, we leave you from Draddy Gymnasium with a handful of takeaways from a Saturday night special that could very well be reprised down the road in a rubber match between the Jaspers and Hawks:

1) Take care of the basketball.
A turnover-prone unit more often than not this season, and in some cases, a byproduct of their frenetic style, Manhattan used this creed as a theme Saturday night. Even though the final box score will indicate a total of 16 giveaways, the Jaspers played smartly and efficiently throughout the evening, not committing their first miscue until there were almost 16 minutes gone by in the first half.

"The message was, really, to protect the ball," said Zane Waterman, who scored 19 of his game-leading 28 points in the opening stanza, converting many a high-percentage shot and taking advantage of Monmouth's floor spacing. "We got six turnovers in the last 3:51, I think, (actually over the last 3:14) and gave them that run. We could have pulled away going into the half. We just got complacent and Coach got into us a little bit, and the final score showed that that worked."

2) Senior leadership.
Last year, it was Monmouth's experience that willed them to a victory at Draddy, with Justin Robinson having the vision to find Micah Seaborn for a dagger three-pointer in the right corner to get the Hawks over the hump in a grind-it-out battle that Manhattan looked ready to steal for most of the night. On this night, it was the Jaspers' age that combined for 69 of the hosts' 93 points, with Waterman (28), Zavier Turner (25) and Rich Williams (11) doing most of the heavy lifting while Calvin Crawford added five markers off the bench. By contrast, Monmouth's trio of seniors; point guard Austin Tilghman, fifth-year forward Zac Tillman, and walk-on Dan Pillari, were held to a mere 10 points.

"My advantage is quickness," Turner said when recounting his ability to exploit the Monmouth backcourt. "I use my quickness to where they have to dare to play defense against me. I try to use that to my advantage."

And on another note, Manhattan's bench will reflect six participants in Saturday's game, but for the third contest in a row, Aaron Walker was not one of them. The sophomore guard has not played since logging 17 minutes in a loss to Marist on January 30, but there are no apparent issues according to Steve Masiello, whose lone comment on Walker when asked for an update on his status was, "he's doing great."

3) Pauly Paulicap continues to assert himself.
Manhattan's other talented sophomore recorded his third double-double and second in three games with 10 points and 13 rebounds, figures to which he added five blocked shots for good measure. Already a team captain in his first season with the Jasper program, his ability to affect the game when the ball is not in his hands and impose a more aggressive tenor on the defensive end was not lost on his coach.

"It's all about being coachable," said Masiello. "It's all about improving in areas, coming out and improving every day. And when you improve every day, when your parts get better, your whole gets better. I like seeing that, because that means our whole is getting better for the end of the year."

4) "I wasn't very good tonight."
Those were the words of King Rice following the final buzzer, as Monmouth's head coach admitted that he did not do an optimal job of preparing his team for the challenge presented by Manhattan, a team he hinted would come ready for what Monmouth had to offer following the Hawks' 72-50 win at Iona this past Thursday.

"Our kids tried hard tonight," he began before falling on his own sword. "We fought. Their coach, our coach -- me -- wasn't very good tonight. I didn't help our kids enough tonight, and that happens sometimes."

"I thought my kids fought hard," he reiterated. "Our coach, meaning me, didn't do a good enough job to help them."

5) Could this rivalry be reprised?
Rice hinted at the notion of welcoming a third meeting with the Jaspers after seeming perturbed by comments he perceived to be directed toward him by a group of Manhattan fans in the latest chapter of a rivalry that has already seen its share of tense moments, such as the exchange between Waterman and Chris Brady in the final minutes of Manhattan's 78-71 win in January of 2016, when Brady apparently flexed in Waterman's direction following a made field goal.

"I said, 'just let this settle in,' Rice recounted of a message to the team in the game's latter stages. "Let that the kids are calling your coach's name -- that their fans want to make it personal about the coach -- hear all of it. Maybe we'll play again. Hopefully we'll do that, and it will be fun. They won one, we won one. Hopefully we'll see them again on a Monday night, both of us get there, and we'll see what happens."

This is not the first time that Rice, always one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, has been unafraid to speak his mind; having defended his program and players against apparent fairweather fans in the wake of Monmouth's loss to Niagara this past Sunday, not to mention his press conference following the Hawks' MAAC championship loss to Iona two years ago, where he made comments -- which he later apologized for -- about Gaels head coach Tim Cluess not attending the conference's award ceremony held earlier that weekend.

However, when news of Rice's umbrage with what the Manhattan fans may have said reached Masiello, a close friend of his (to wit, Rice made it a point to seek out Masiello's mother and girlfriend in the stands following the game), the Jasper head coach defended his own fan base while handling the matter diplomatically at the same time.

"I've been at Manhattan -- this is my seventh year," he said. "I've known our fans and our student section to be some of the classiest fans. I'm proud to be the Manhattan coach, I'm proud of our student section, I'm very proud of how our fans conduct themselves."

"I didn't hear anything. If something was said that was derogatory or disrespectful, I will apologize as the head of this basketball organization, but I have to see what was said and find out. King's a dear friend of mine. I don't know what was said, I'll talk to King about that. If anything was said that shouldn't have been, I will apologize now for that. But I've been here seven years and I haven't had one incident regarding that, so I cannot speak on that because I did not hear it." 

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