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Jaspers turn corner after 2-0 hoops week

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The Manhattan College Jaspers achieved something last week that they hadn’t accomplished since last December: Win two straight games.

After defeating Fairfield 62-49 on Jan. 31, the Jaspers rolled by Saint Peter’s 64-50 Saturday night to make it a 2-0 week for the suddenly surging Jaspers.

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello was pleased with the Jaspers’ long-awaited  turnaround. Well, for the most part.

“I thought the effort was good for some of the night,” Masiello said. “I thought the first 20 (minutes) we played well. I thought the second 20 we were a little inconsisten,t and we showed some of our age. (But) mission accomplished. Now we just have to get to work and clean up some things that we didn’t do a great job with.”

Masiello’s team is young, but the future looks bright for Samir Stewart and the rest of his freshman-heavy lineup.

Stewart finished off Saint Peter’s with 19 points, knocking down 4-of-5 from three-point range in the win.

“It’s just trusting the process,” Stewart said. “We all talk about earlier in the season how we didn’t play hard, but we’re all starting to play better. We’re all starting to gel. We’re starting to understand what we need to do to win the games. Coach believes in us and puts us in the right positions. We just take advantage when we can.”

For Stewart, the Jaspers success is simple: It’s all about love.

“We have a great freshman group,” Stewart said. “We love each other. We’re like brothers off the court, and it transfers on the court.”

Stewart believes he has improved on an individual level, too.

“Maturity wise, I think I’ve grown a lot,” Stewart said. “Coming from high school to college, it’s a big transformation I had to make. Coach Mas believed in me, (assistant) coach (Matt) Grady believed in me. They all stuck with me when I had rough times, rough patches.

“They always believed that I could do it, and I just had to believe in myself, believe that I could do it and make big plays.”

Stewart is “what the Jaspers are all about,” according to Masiello.

“It’s hard to come in from high school and lead a college team,” Masiello said. Stewart is “a terrific freshman point guard. He’s got a big upside, he’s a natural leader. I’m proud of his growth, I’d like to see more assists tonight. I’d like to see him rebound the ball a little more. He’s involved and he’s getting better.”

It isn’t just Stewart, though. The team’s freshman core also includes Tykei Greene, Christian Hinckson, Warren Williams and Elijah Buchanan and the first-year players combined for 46 of Manhattan’s 64 points Saturday.

“I think what you’re seeing is the freshmen become sophomores right now,” Masiello said. “The young guys, they understand (now). They’re 20 games in, they got their butt kicked for a little bit. They had some good moments, they saw what they can do and what they can’t do. They’re going to progress.”

The young Jaspers’ recent success on the hardwood is similar to preparing a meal, at least in Masiello’s kitchen.

If “you don’t know what the meal is going to look like, you have no idea what it should smell like. Your meal isn’t going to be very good,” Masiello said. “You have to visualize what your product is going to be. When you do that, what you’re buying goes up, your habits go up, and that’s going to affect your product.

“I think that’s what’s happening right now. Our guys finally understand what we can look like. What that picture might be.”

Despite winning two straight games, Masiello urged his team not to get ahead of themselves.

“I’m not gonna let two games of playing well” get in our heads, the coach said. “We have a lot of work to do. We’re going to continue to work and get better. Hopefully we’ll have a finished product ready by (late) February and early March when we go up to Albany” for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.

The win over the Peacocks boosted Manhattan’s MAAC record to 4-6, and the Jaspers appear to be making their move in the conference.

“I definitely believe we’re turning the corner,” Stewart said “At this time of the season, that’s when we want to do good. We want to do better in conference play and heading into the tournament.”

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