The last time Manhattan College faced off against Niagara, the Purple Eagles put up 72 points to take the conference win.
But things were a little different when Niagara visited Draddy Gymnasium on Sunday. Sure, the Purple Eagles put up another 72 points, but it wasn’t enough against the 82 scored by the Jaspers, improving the home team’s record to 13-15 overall, and 8-8 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Jaspers head coach Steve Masiello took to Twitter to give praise not just to his players, but actually the fan contingent that showed up to root Manhattan College on.
“Jasper Nation, you were amazing today,” Masiello wrote. “Thank you for your support. It was the difference for us down the stretch.”
Niagara’s head coach Chris Casey said it was Manhattan’s ability to convert the long shot that did the Purple Eagles in.
“They made three-pointers, and we didn’t,” Casey said. “That was the biggest difference in the game. They made 10, we made five.”
On the other hand, Masiello emphasized his team’s performance on the other side of the ball.
“We’re still not where we need to be, but (I’m) really happy with our defense,” he said. “I thought we came out defensively and really did things that we should have done.”
That defense showed in the second half, allowing Niagara to convert just a single three-pointer.
“We just had to get our identity,” senior guard Rich Williams said. “We weren’t doing a great job on the defensive end, there were a lot of lapses. In the second half, we decided to turn around, communicate a little bit better, and we were better as a whole.”
Williams finished the afternoon with a game-high 21 points, gathering eight rebounds and four assists along the way.
Other Jasper leaders included forward Zane Waterman with 16 points, while Zavier Turner and Pauly Paulicap each had 13.
In addition, Paulicap collected nine rebounds and four blocks, one of which was especially emphatic.
With 2:46 left in regulation, Paulicap ferociously denied a rim-rattler from Niagara’s Dominic Robb, leading to an easy Williams layup. The block created a chaotic response at Draddy, sealing the Jaspers’ victory.
“He’s an elite rim protector,” Masiello said of Paulicap. “He started to get the flow of double-doubles, he’s rebounding the ball at a high clip. When he gets good low angles and posts in the paint, he finishes well.”
Further highlights came thanks to guard Thomas Capuano. The junior added nine points, including a crucial three-pointer down the stretch, clocking in 36 of 40 available minutes.
Bringing energy is Capuano’s calling card. “I’m trying to bring anything that I can to the team. Wherever I’m needed, I’m just going to go all out and try to get Ws.”
With just two games left in the regular season and the MAAC tournament in sight, Manhattan hopes to finish strong.
“We’re not even thinking about (the tournament) right now,” Masiello said. “All we’re worried about is the next team on our schedule. We have 80 more minutes of basketball in this regular season. that’s what we’re going to concentrate on.”
Manhattan’s next game is on the road against Iona this Friday, hoping to close the two-game conference gap between the two teams.
“With all due respect to Iona, they’re Iona,” Masiello said. “They’re a team on our schedule just like any other. They’re the defending champ, back-to-back champion, so they’re in a place where we want to be.
“We’re going to come into practice, do our jobs, and prepare for a very good Iona team.”