The wait was worth it for Manhattan fans on Wednesday night at Draddy Gymnasium. The Jaspers survived their season-opener against St. Francis Brooklyn, 80-79, in overtime.
Manhattan was the second-to-last team to open its season. Only Temple, which plays on Thursday night, hadn’t kicked off the 2017-18 season by the time the Jaspers tipped at Draddy Gymnasium. The victory was extra sweet for head coach Steve Masiello, as it was his 50th win in Manhattan’s home arena.
“I’m just really proud that these guys find a way to win and that’s something to be said for them,” Masiello said. “When you find a way to grind out games and get one, I’m really happy about that.”
The game was also a good learning experience for a young, but determined St. Francis Brooklyn squad. Glenn Braica appears to have brought some talented young athletes to Remsen Street.
Here are three thoughts from the game.
1. The Jaspers are happy to have Rich Williams back. Williams returned to the starting lineup after missing all of the 2016-17 campaign due to injury. He immediately showed what Manhattan was missing last season by scoring the first two points of the game. The swingman continued to show his versatility throughout the contest and finished with 21 points on 9-15 shooting. He also showed just how good he feels with dunks on a quick move to the hoop and an alley-oop.
“It was a really gutty performance by him,” Masiello said. “I thought he came out with a lot of fire and did a lot of things.”
The challenge with bringing Williams back into the fold is that other Jaspers are going to have to adjust to having a go-to scorer on the court. Neither Zane Waterman nor Zavier Turner started the game and it seemed to take a little while for both of them to get into the game. Turner hit a key foul line jumper in overtime and finished with 16 points. Waterman made some plays down the stretch, but finished with just nine points and 10 rebounds in 41 minutes. He also had four turnovers in the game.
“When you have all these guys you can’t forget about people,” Masiello said. “And as a coach and as players we have to make sure we’re putting them in the right situation to be successful. I didn’t do a good job of featuring Zane tonight and I’ve got to do a better job.”
2. Despite having a veteran lineup, the Manhattan defense still needs work. The Jaspers bring back a lot of experience around Williams, but they’ll need some time to get back into the flow of Masiello’s pressing defensive style. Masiello said after the game that despite forcing 18 turnovers, his team didn’t get as many deflections as he would’ve liked during the game. The Jaspers also committed 26 fouls, which led to 27 St. Francis free throw attempts.
“We foul too much,” Masiello said. “That’ll come with us. We’ll get that. We struggle with that early on.”
To be fair, both teams were in the double-bonus with 12 minutes remaining in the second half, so it was a tightly called game, but Manhattan will have to better adjust to the officiating throughout the season. The Jaspers had the third worst free throw rate in the country in 2016-17 at 53.4, it was 49 on Wednesday.
One St. Francis player that was particularly good against the press was Glenn Sanabria. The junior point guard played 41 minutes as the lead guard against an aggressive defense and committed just one turnover. He also scored 13 points on 4-11 shooting and had three assists and three rebounds in a strong all-around game.
“He’s a warrior. He’s unbelievable. I thought he was phenomenal. I don’t know if people understand how hard that is to do,” Braica said about his point guard.
3. St. Francis Brooklyn is young, but promising.
“I love my team and when we get a little more experience we’re going to be dangerous,” Braica said.
Foul trouble forced Braica to mess with his rotation, but new faces provided sparks for the Terriers. In the first half it was forward Yaradyah Evans who came off the bench to knock down two threes and grab a couple rebounds.
Jalen Jordan, who was excellent in the Terriers opener against Duquesne, only played 13 minutes due to foul trouble, but his classmate Josh Nicholas was 4-7 from the field and scored 12 points. He also had six assists and just two turnovers. Both players are long, lean talented scorers who look like the type of freshman you’d expect to see at Mount St. Mary’s. It allows the offense to be more free-flowing.
“You don’t have to choreograph everything, which I felt like we had to do last year,” Braica said.
Milija Cosic also helped provide a front court presence for the Terriers. He scored 11 points, most during a key stretch in the second half that helped St. Francis get right back into it.
“He did a great job. When he calms down offensively he’s going to be a good player for us,” Braica said about Cosic. “It’s an adjustment to Division I.”
And while he’s not a new face, it’s worth noting that D.J. Porter came off the bench to notch a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. His size was especially useful against a Jaspers lineup that was really hurting St. Francis on the glass.
St. Francis though also showed its youth. The Terriers had an opportunity to close a strong first half up by eight or even 10 points, but let the Jaspers cut the deficit to four late. They also had a number of tough foul calls (35 in all) and turnovers in difficult moments. Still, the Terriers certainly don’t look like a team that was picked last in the Northeast Conference.