Siena “easy favorite” to win MAAC tournament


Atlantic City, N.J.

They should just call off the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament and award the trophy to Siena right now, if you believe Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello.

He made sure to portray this tournament as the Saints Invitational after his ninth-seeded Jaspers beat No. 8 Fairfield 61-43 in a first-round game on Tuesday night to earn a quarterfinal date against No. 1 seed Siena on Wednesday at 7.

“It would be a disservice if they don’t win the MAAC title,” said Masiello, who has won two of them. “And they’re the No. 1 seed. They’re playing the best basketball. They’ve won nine in a row. So they’re the easy favorite to win this thing. Everyone can see that. This is their tournament. They’re the 1 seed. We’re nine. We want to just come in and try and keep it competitive.”

Never mind that Manhattan (13-17) split the two regular-season meetings with Siena. Or that the Jaspers led by 26 in their 81-69 victory over the Saints on Jan. 12. Even Siena’s 65-52 victory in the rematch on Feb. 16 was a 1-point game with 7:30 to play.

Also never mind that the No. 1 seed has won only one of the last nine MAAC tournaments, and that was Iona last year after barely surviving a quarterfinal game against Saint Peter’s.

Manhattan senior forward Pauly Paulicap, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds against Fairfield, didn’t quite build up Siena like his coach did.

“I give much respect to Siena,’’ Paulicap said. “They’re a good team. But I think we can definitely get them … If we stick to the script, we can definitely get them.”

On Tuesday, Manhattan broke open a game that was tied 19-19 at halftime to beat Fairfield, which had swept the regular-season series with the Jaspers.

In fact, Fairfield beat Manhattan 66-50 just four days earlier.

“Wasn’t easy today coming in after a team that swept us,” Masiello said.  “The percentages were against us and we understood that. Credit to the players on a 72-hour, 80-hour turnaround to lock in on details. So I’m really proud of them for that.”

Manhattan shot 52 percent from the field in the second half after making only 26.9 percent in the first. The Jaspers shot 8 of 17 from 3-point range for the game.

“I just think we were, for the last seven games, dying to see the ball go in a little bit,’’ Masiello said. “And once one did, we got right back to who we are. I have a lot of faith in it because every day in practice, we shoot the ball pretty well and we’re a pretty good defensive team. So I know we have it in us to do it. We just haven’t been doing it when it counts.”

Manhattan’s Samir Stewart had 11 points and Christian Hinckson added 10.

Taj Benning had 10 points for Fairfield (12-20), the MAAC’s worst shooting team, which was 11 of 44 from the field.



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