When you come to a game at Manhattan’s Draddy Gymnasium, a demonstration in defense is the expectation. That’s just what was in store Saturday evening as the Jaspers outlasted MAAC foe Fairfield 61-58 in their opening game of conference play.
Manhattan – known for its high-pressure defense under head coach Steve Masiello – limited Fairfield to just 35% shooting and a 5-27 (18.5%) performance from behind the arc. The Stags converted just one of 15 three-point attempts after halftime.
Fairfield held a 30-26 advantage at the break behind 10 points from senior guard Tyler Nelson, but the Jaspers clamped down on the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year in the second stanza, limiting Nelson to just 2-9 shooting after the break.
In a game that featured nine lead changes, the Stags held a 47-46 advantage after a pair of Kevin Peterson free throws with 9:27 remaining. Manhattan responded with a 10-2 run to open up its largest advantage of the night at 56-49 with 3:55 to play.
The Jaspers held Fairfield to just two field goals in a period of nearly eight minutes in the second half to solidify their advantage and move to 1-0 in conference play.
“It’s understanding your defense is going to win you games,” Masiello said. We were flat tonight for whatever reason. We’ve come off breaks and played well. We came off a break tonight and it wasn’t our “A” game. I thought we won and it wasn’t a great energy effort from us tonight for whatever reason.”
Manhattan was picked to finish second in the MAAC preseason coaches’ poll after pulling in in last place with a 5-15 league record a year ago. However, that season was played without all-league talent Rich Williams, who sustained a torn meniscus just days before the season-opener. Last year’s team also lacked the talent of Pauly Paulicap, who has emerged as a formidable presence in the paint during his first season with the Jaspers.
Paulicap led all scorers with 16 points Saturday night, and brought down nine rebounds for good measure. The sophomore forward has corralled nine boards in three of his last four games, with another eight at Seton Hall last time out.
“I come into every game looking to just do my job,” Paulicap said. “That’s to protect the rim, if not grab rebounds. I don’t look to do anything more. I just try to do my job and that’s all defense. Whatever I get offensively is just a plus.”
For the year, Paulicap is averaging 8.8 ppg and 6.2 rpg with a .614 field goal percentage. The potential he has already flashed, along with multiple years of eligibility remaining, lend credence to the thought Paulicap could develop into one of the MAAC’s best bigs.
Although if you ask his teammates, they might say he’s already there.
“Pauly reminds me a lot of Rhamel Brown,” Williams said, referring to the star forward who helped the Jaspers to the first of two NCAA Tournaments in 2014. “He’s the best teammate, he’s the best big man we have in this league in my opinion without a doubt.”
Under Masiello, the Jaspers have established a tenacious defensive mentality. After a down year, Manhattan has made the most of its reinforcements and is poised to prove those preseason predictions true.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.