By Josh Adams @NCAAhoopsdigest

The weather outside Draddy Gymnasium was cold on Friday night but not quite as cold as Eastern Kentucky’s shooting after halftime. The Jaspers outscored the Colonels 53-24 in the second half as Manhattan ends it’s non-conference slate with a record of 5-8. 

Eastern Kentucky and Manhattan have a few things in common. Both have head coaches with Kentucky roots as Jaspers Coach Steve Masiello and Colonels Coach Dan McHale have a long history together in the bluegrass state. Masiello was a walk-on  player for the Wildcats at the same time McHale was a student manager. Both were coaches under Bobby Gonzales at Manhattan. The homecoming  in Riverdale tonight for McHale tonight wasn’t so sweet. 

Manhattan hangs it’s hat on it’s defense and the Jaspers came out of the locker room after halftime firing on all cylinders. With EKU holding a slight 30-28 edge, the Jaspers started to cause turnovers with their pressure. Lead by Calvin Crawford’s season high 19 points, the Jaspers capitalized on EKU turnovers for easy buckets. Na’Quan Council provided solid guard play with 12 points and six assists.

Nick Mayo lead the Colonels with 14 points. Their record stands at 6-8. 

Manhattan has held three of it’s last four opponents to under 60 points. Getting his teams to buy into playing pressure defense is a formula that Masiello has used to get his team tournament ready in March. When I asked Masiello to evaluate his team’s performance so far this season, he said matter-of-factly, “The record doesn’t matter to me. If we were 9-1 and teams were shooting 54% against us, I’d be miserable.” He continued to parse the season on defensive numbers saying, “If I see teams shooting 30%, 35%, 37% against us, I know we’ll clean up our turnovers, clean up our fouling. Am I happy with 5-8? No. My AD said I have to turn this thing around quickly and I have to. That being said as long as we keep defending the way we do, we’ll be fine.”

It’s a long way until March and there’s a daunting MACC schedule ahead for the Jaspers. The Masiello philosophy of defense and being tournament tough is a formula that has had the Jaspers end up in the NCAA Tournament in the past. Anything less than an NCAA bid to Masiello, like his team’s record at the moment, is meaningless to him.