It’s just two games into the season, and there are questions as to who the Manhattan Jaspers men’s basketball team will be this season.
Well, there’s one thing for sure — the Jaspers will once again be a top defensive team as they have always been in head coach Steve Masiello’s nine years at Manhattan.
But offensively, things are a little murkier. Will the Jaspers be the team that saw five players score in double figures and drop 85 points on Delaware State in their season-opening victory last week? Or will they more closely resemble the team that saw two players finish in double digits and grinded out a hard-fought 57-51 win over Albany last Saturday?
The jury is still out, but the Jaspers will take a 2-0 start to their season regardless of the style of play that got them there.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Masiello said after the win over Albany. “I thought they were extremely resilient. They came back from two double-digit deficits, showed a lot of character, and showed a lot about what the people in that locker room are about.”
Yes, the Jaspers trailed by as many as 11 points twice in the game, with the last time coming after Albany’s Cameron Healy opened the second half with a three-pointer for a 34-23 Great Danes’ lead.
But despite a less-than-stellar shooting night, the Jaspers persevered and slowly began to chip away at Albany’s lead. Manhattan — which never led once in the first half — used a 10-0 run after Healy’s three-ball to pull within 34-33 on a layup by Tykei Greene.
But as they did in the first half when Manhattan began to make a run, the Great Danes quickly answered with five straight points to boost their lead to 39-33 with 10:27 to play.
It wasn’t until there was 7:55 remaining the Jaspers finally caught Albany as Samir Stewart bagged the second of his back-to-back three-pointers to tie the game at 41. But again Albany answered, and when Adam Lulka converted his layup, the Great Danes were up again by three with just 3:42 to go.
“I think you have to be really strong mentally, and in practice coach really throws adversity at us all the time,” Greene said. “So we translate it from practice into games, and that really helped us tonight.”
Greene then went to work, scoring seven of his career-high 17 points in the final 3:10 with his two free throws with 2:32 remaining giving Manhattan a 50-49 lead. Pauly Paulicap then missed a pair of free throws on Manhattan’s next possession, but the senior forward more than made up for that miscue the next time down the court when he tossed in Stewart’s missed layup for a 52-51 lead with 1:23 to play.
The Jaspers never surrendered the lead again.
A three-point play by Greene and one free throw each from Stewart and Paulicap in the final 14.8 seconds closed out the game for Manhattan. Stewart finished with 14 points and was 3-for-7 from three-point range. But for Paulicap — who finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks — a chance at redemption was what he craved after missing those late-game free throws.
“Every time I mess up on a play I always have a chip on my shoulder and always keep it in the back of my head to make up for it,” Paulicap said. “That’s what allows me to keep going throughout the game.”
So which offense will show up for the Jaspers on any given night? It’s still too soon to tell. But the one thing Masiello will bank on in the meantime is something more intangible.
“What I’m encouraged about every day is their character,” said Masiello, who with 129 career wins is now one victory shy of fourth place in total wins in school history. “How they approach the game, how they practice, how they handle study hall, how they handle the classroom, how they handle the community. I know the type of people we have and they work hard. Whether we’re 0-2 or 2-0, those are the things I’m looking at that move the needle for me.”
The Jaspers now hit the road playing six of their next seven games away from Draddy Gym. They were scheduled to face Samford in Birmingham, Alabama, on Nov. 19 before facing Elon University in North Carolina on Nov. 23. Manhattan will then close out November at Rhode Island on Nov. 27.
“No excuses,” Masiello said. “We’ll go one game at a time, 40 minutes at a time. Go to Birmingham, handle our business, put forth our best effort, come back and take it from there.”