The Manhattan Jaspers entered last weekend playing some of their best ball of the season. Winners of five of their last six — including a victory over Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference heavyweight Rider — the Jaspers seemed to be hitting on all cylinders with the conference season rapidly drawing to a close.
So with archrival Iona arriving at Draddy Gym last Friday night followed by a quick road trip to conference bottom-feeder Fairfield, the opportunity was there for the Jaspers to further their climb up the conference standings and secure a top seed in the upcoming MAAC tournament.
But a promising weekend turned into a lost one as the Jaspers dropped a 66-52 decision to Iona before ending the weekend with a dismal 72-59 loss at Fairfield.
The back-to-back defeats dropped the Jaspers to 7-9 in conference play with just two league games remaining and hopes of a top five seed now all but gone.
“Tim and the job he does year in and year out, it’s special,” Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said of his Iona counterpart, Tim Cluess, after the Jaspers lost for the seventh straight time to the Gaels. “I think it’s one of the best coaching jobs in the country. What he’s accomplished, I don’t know if people give him enough credit for what he’s done. I have so much respect for him and what he’s accomplished at this time of year.”
After Manhattan shot 42.3 percent from the floor in the first half, the Jaspers headed into the locker room with a narrow 28-26 lead.
But the tables turned on them in the second half, especially kicking off with a stretch of 1-for-7 shooting, Masiello said.
“I thought we were pressing a little to score (and) we missed two (defensive) coverages in transition that led to two threes for them,” the coach said.
Manhattan was playing shorthanded with both Tyler Reynolds and Pauly Paulicap sidelined with injuries. So Masiello knew battling the defending MAAC champs was going to be a difficult proposition for his Jaspers.
“You want to win at this time of year,” Masiello said. “There’s been growth every day, but you want to win. We didn’t have Tyler today, that hurt us a little bit. We didn’t have Pauly, that hurts you. I thought we missed Tyler when we were 1-for-7 and couldn’t get open looks.”
After converting the game’s opening three-point attempt, freshman standout Samir Stewart fell flat offensively with that first basket ending up being the only one of the night off 1-for-9 shooting. He did, however, get six assists, which was marred by two turnovers.
Takei Greene, led Manhattan with 16 points, but Masiello was looking for more from his first-year player.
“I need to see (Greene) rebound more,” Masiello said. “We know what our guys are capable of. Takei is a guy that should be 16 (points) and eight (rebounds). He’s an all-league player. That’s what he should be, that’s how he should be. He should dominate a game without scoring.”
Another freshman, Warren Williams, chipped in 10 points and seven boards while sophomore Ebube Ebube posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
But just as with Greene, Masiello expects more.
“He should be dominating,” Masiello said of Warren. “That’s my expectation of him. That’s how much I believe in him. That’s how we think of him here.”
Things didn’t get any better for the Jaspers on Sunday at Fairfield despite a career-best 20-point performance from Ebube. This time it was Manhattan’s perimeter defense that failed them, allowing the Stags to knock down 13 three-pointers. Manhattan trailed 36-22 at the half and could never get back into the game.
Now with just two games remaining — Friday night at home against Monmouth (9-8) and Sunday at Quinnipiac (10-6) — the Jaspers need to dust themselves off and regroup.
“Anything can happen,”Masiello said. “You have to take care of your own destiny (and) we didn’t do that.
“You got to just worry about the next game. That’s all we can worry about right now. We’ll regroup and get ready for our last weekend down the stretch.”