The Manhattan College men’s basketball team did a fine job padding its frequent flyer account during the non-conference season. With road trips to tournaments in such locales as Belfast, Ireland and Estero, Florida, plus side trips to Tulsa, Oklahoma; Long Island and New Jersey, the Jaspers racked up more than 5,800 miles in the season’s first two months.
But the one place the Jaspers have always seemed to thrive is at home at Draddy Gym. Going into last Sunday night’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game against Rider University, Manhattan already was 4-0 at home this season, and a robust 40-19 at Draddy in MAAC play under head coach Steve Masiello.
So when the Jaspers shook off a sluggish start versus the Broncs to eventually build a double-digit lead in the second half, it looked to have all the makings of another home-cooked win for the Jaspers.
Only someone forgot to tell Rider.
Trailing by 11 points with 12:20 to play, Rider shredded Manhattan in the paint while the Jaspers’ perimeter shooting rivaled the outside weather in chilliness as the Broncs outscored Manhattan 35-18 down the stretch to pull off an 82-76 victory over the Jaspers.
The loss was the second straight for the Jaspers, who dropped a 77-66 decision at Monmouth last Friday night.
So what happened against Rider? The Jaspers simply had no defensive answers for the Rider tandem of Tyere Marshall and Frederick Scott.
“It was our inability to defend,” Masiello said. “I think we thought it was a three-point contest where we run around shooting jump shots, taking bad shots. It’s been a theme with this team a little bit where they think the ball going in (the basket) is playing good basketball. It’s not.
“It’s fool’s gold. You look at the field goal defense percentage in the second half and that tells you the game.”
Yes, it does do just that. After Manhattan (7-9, 2-2 MAAC) — a team which prides itself on its stingy defense — held Rider (10-6, 3-1 MAAC) to 37.9 percent shooting from the floor in the first half, the Jaspers became a shell of themselves defensively after halftime, allowing the Broncs to light them up to the tune of 64.9 percent from the field.
The large majority of those points came in the paint courtesy of Marshall, who finished with 20, as well as Scott, a talented freshman who contributed 19 points and 14 rebounds. Rider was simply too dominant inside, outscoring the Jaspers 58-20 in the paint.
Masiello simply couldn’t get through to his players to change their mindset in the second half as they got away from everything that was working so well in the first 20 minutes.
“It’s great when the ball is going in,” Masiello said. “We’re making shots, so you think you can get into these flows and play the game that way. If you’re defending, great. If you’re not defending, then what happens is you miss a couple and then you’re saying, ‘What do we do?’ And now you start to scramble.”
Manhattan held a 35-31 lead at intermission and seemed a step quicker than the Broncs as the first half played out. They grabbed nearly every loose ball and key rebound and made the key defensive stop. Not so much in the second half.
“In the first half I had zero concerns just for the simple fact that we were shooting 35 percent,” Masiello said. “I didn’t care if we were shooting 12 (percent). I knew that would take care of itself. But when you allow teams 40, 50 and 60 (percent), you got some issues ahead of you.”
There were some bright spots despite the loss. Thomas Capuano shot 5-for-6 from three-point range and finished with a team-high 17 points and Zavier Turner just missed out on a double-double with 16 points and nine assists. But it was all lost in the fog of the Jaspers’ defensive breakdowns that cost them a conference victory.
Manhattan entered the weekend 2-0 in the MAAC and tied for the top spot. They exited last weekend at 2-2 with some work to do. But Masiello sees no reason to hit the panic button.
“Nothing has changed,” he said. “I didn’t think we were the champions at 2-0, and I don’t think we’re out of it at 2-2. It’s the first week of January. I think we need to address some things and change them quickly from a defensive standpoint because we are a much better defensive team.
“It’s almost like we got to MAAC play and were like, ‘OK, let’s take our foot off the gas defensively.’ That’s something we can’t do.”