NEW YORK – Manhattan is not a “true” 2-6 team. Following the Jaspers’ 63-55 loss to Rutgers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, coach Steve Massiello elaborated. “When you don’t play in your building for a month, the 80s Lakers would have struggled,” Massiello said. “The mistake I made was I shouldn’t have scheduled this many games on the road. We played at Draddy Gym once.”
The Jaspers dropped a neutral site game against Florida State. They also fell short in heart breakers at UMass and George Mason. The lone Draddy date brought an easy win over conference opponent Marist.
“I think we have a lot of things to build on,” Massiello said. “For us it is different than the Big Ten, Big 12 or ACC, it comes down to who is playing well in February and March.”
The location of the game was not an excuse. As the Manhattan mentor pointed out, “We had a slow start. We came out flat. No excuses for that.” The second half saw Manhattan battle back from a double-digit deficit. They neither took the lead nor drew even. A bright spot was the play of forward Emmy Andujar, pacing the Jaspers with 21 points and nine rebounds. A sore spot was 14 turnovers, along with perimeter shooting, or lack of it. The Jaspers scored 10 second-half field goals, the longest a fifteen-footer. For the game they shot 1 of 14 (7 percent) from three-point range.
Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan was pleased with his defense that forced Manhattan turnovers and limited them to a 39 percent field goal percentage. In tempo free metrics, Rutgers limited the Jaspers to an 87 offensive efficiency, a comfortably above average number for a defense to allow.
What Jordan is looking for is offensive consistency. Rutgers made just six field goals in the second half. Four were by Kadeem Jack. A game-high 24-point scorer, Jack has the ability but must show consistency for the Rutgers offense to be effective. “He has the skills to be very good,” Jordan said of the 6-9 senior. Jordan cited Jack’s inconsistency to not being attentive for certain stretch. “If he could stay alert he would be very effective for us.” Sunday’s outing was a step in the right direction.
In the second game St. John’s rolled over Fordham 74-53. Out of necessity, the Red Storm went to a smaller lineup with great success. With 3:48 remaining in the first half, St. John’s center Chris Obekpa was assessed his second technical and thus finished for the afternoon. At that point the Red Storm held a three-point lead. They proceeded to go on a game-altering run to push their record to 8-1.
Forcing turnovers was a major benefit of going small. Fordham was forced into committing 20 turnovers, which translated into an outstanding 28-4 points off turnover advantage for St. John’s.
“I was not happy with our lack of poise (the Obekpa) technicals,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “I was very happy with the way we responded and the things we did with the smaller lineup.”
For St. John’s to handle Big East competition on a nightly basis, Lavin knows he needs a frontcourt presence. That’s something Obekpa can provide. He small lineup is good for stretches and against certain opponents, but not something Lavin wants to fully rely on in conference play.
D’Angelo Harrison scored 24 points for St. John’s. Jamal Branch scored two, but had seven assists and zero turnovers for 25 minutes. Rysheed Jordan came off the bench to lead all scorers with 24 points. Lavin praised the St. John’s sophomore guard for a very efficient performance at both ends of the floor. Jordan added four steals to complement his fine offensive performance.
Halftime of the St. John’s-Fordham game saw the honoring of several legends. Dee Rowe, (UConn, Jack Powers (Manhattan) and Tom Young (Rutgers) were coaches joining Darryl Brown (Fordham) and Billy Scaheffer (St. John’s). When Rutgers went Final Four in 1976, they defeated UConn in a regional semi. Rowe and Young were the respective UConn and Rutgers mentors. Jack Powers, after his Manhattan days, has served the NIT as an administrator for years. Darryl Brown led Fordham to an upset victory in defeating USC in the 1974 Festival. Billy Schaeffer did the same for St. John’s as they downed South Carolina in the 1972 Festival championship. Memories!
Said Eddie Jordan on the Big Ten: “That feels like years away. I am just trying to get this team to improve every practice and every game. We have other games before conference play.”
Nationally ranked St. John’s improved to 8-1. Fordham fell to 3-5. Manhattan, as noted, is 2-6 while Rutgers is now 6-4.