It’s hard to find positives when you lose 12 of 13 games. It’s even tougher when the driving force behind the struggles is live ball turnovers, which for John Gallagher’s Manhattan Jaspers has inflated to 95 total turnovers in a six-game stretch. In Sunday’s 77-68 loss to Fairfield University, Manhattan coughed up 17 more.
“Our live ball turnovers are igniting other teams right now,” Manhattan head coach John Gallagher said after watching his team’s four-point lead with 9:20 left slip away thanks to a 14-0 run from Fairfield. “I’ve never seen some of these turnovers. We have to work on it and it starts with me.”
Manhattan’s 17 turnovers made it almost impossible for them to get in any type of sustained rhythm. To make matters worse, Seydou Traore was off his game and held to 8 points and 2 rebounds. Overall, Manhattan put up a fair fight in their weekend tilts with MAAC title contenders Quinnipiac and Fairfield, losing by six and points, respectively.
“It’s hard going through this,” Gallagher said, while acknowledging there are no moral victories. “But you don’t go through this for it to not go your way.”
There is talent assembled with this Manhattan team (5-15, 2-9 MAAC), but the bigger questions are the personnel fit and the lack of depth on a day where leading-scorer Shaquil Bender was sidelined for the second time this season due to a discipline issue.
The lack of definitive leadership outside of Jaden Winston’s lead-by-example approach has also been glaring with this Manhattan team ever since Brett Rumpel was lost five games into the season with an ACL tear. Still, Manhattan does not have quit in their blood, as evidenced by them cutting Fairfield’s 10-point lead down to four in the closing minutes when Winston set up Traore for an alley-oop jam on the fastbreak.
“We’re dealing with freshmen in college basketball,” Gallagher said as a blanket statement suggesting the youthfulness his roster skews toward. “Everyone else has fifth-year guys. It’s a sign of the future for how good we can be.”
There is no denying that the freshmen Winston and Traore are special talents. Winston especially has come on late with 12.8 points per game, 4.8 assists and 6 rebounds over his last five games. Additionally, Winston’s movement off the ball and ability to finish in the lane have improved drastically, too.
“We are going to win big games with Jaden,” Gallagher said of the Dematha Catholic High School product. “He’s as good as any point guard that I’ve ever coached.”
Manhattan is going to need more contributions elsewhere outside of Winston, Traore, and Rouzan, who was doubled team late on Sunday after hurting the Stags early on inside. The Jaspers had their share of good looks from three down the stretch, but couldn’t string together enough makes to rattle Fairfield.
Brown transfer Perry Cowan made three of his eight attempts from three but has lacked consistency from there all season with a 30 percent conversion rate from deep. When Manhattan trailed 70-66 with 1:44 left, Cowan got a good look from the corner spot off a Stags turnover but couldn’t capitalize.
Fairfield responded by once again showing off their knack for making tough shots, with a deep three from player of the year candidate Jalen Leach with 48 seconds left despite a tough Jaspers defense. That effectively put the margin out of reach, leaving Manhattan with more questions than answers.
“We have to get some production out of our bench right now,” said Gallagher, posing a challenge to his bench for more production than the 24 points chipped in on Sunday. “If you look at our numbers, that’s the game.”
Manhattan has been below average in three-point shooting in the MAAC at 31 percent, ranking ninth out of 11 teams. Coming into the season, Gallagher expected to have the personnel fits to make that area a strength for the Jaspers. There is still time for that to change, but for now, Gallagher is experimenting with different line-ups in hopes of finding a hot hand or two to couple with Bender’s ability to hit quick threes.
“We had wide open threes that we missed and that’s the game,” Gallagher said matter-of-factly after the loss to Fairfield.
The Stags deserve a large parcel of credit for not only overcoming the Jaspers but for being a consistent force. Fairfield, who is currently tied for second place, will enter Atlantic City during the MAAC tournament as one of the favorites to cut down the nets thanks in large part to elite guard play.
“It’s one of the best shooting backcourts I’ve seen,” Gallagher said. “They make hard shots better than anyone.”
Overall, Gallagher remains bullish that Manhattan can still win big games in the back half of the regular season and into conference tournament play come March in Atlantic City. The Jaspers have a favorable schedule to work with the rest of the way, with two match-ups versus last-place co-dweller Siena, and one match-up with teams that are middle of the pack or worse such Rider, Mount St. Mary’s, Marist, and Canisius.
Conventionally speaking, now would be the time to build momentum for the Jaspers, even though Atlantic City could end up producing vagaries that throw any expectations out the window anyways.
Gallagher is ready to see what the stretch run has in store for his young Jaspers.
“The next 38 days are really important for this program,” Gallagher said. “I hope Atlantic City pays off to be better for us.”
Manhattan may get their best scoring weapon yet if former Cal point guard DeJuan Clayton receives a temporary restraining order after having sued the NCAA for denying him eligibility. Clayton, 26, is seeking an eighth year of eligibility after having already received two medical redshirts and the extra year granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic. The next court date for the case is scheduled for Feb. 20 which means that Clayton’s debut will have to wait until the Marist game on Feb. 23 if the court rules him eligible.