Jermaine Lawrence breaks out for Manhattan

Jermaine Lawrence beats Connor McClennaghan off the dribble for a two-handed slam Monday night at Marist. OBW Photo / Kendall Loh
Jermaine Lawrence beats Connor McClennaghan off the dribble for a two-handed slam Monday night at Marist. OBW Photo / Kendall Loh
Jermaine Lawrence beats Connor McClennaghan off the dribble for a two-handed slam Monday night at Marist. OBW Photo / Kendall Loh

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y – Steve Masiello looked to his left moments after Manhattan beat Marist, 67-54, Monday night, and asked Jermaine Lawrence a question.

“You haven’t been too happy with me the last couple of weeks, have you?” he asked.

Lawrence flashed a smile, shook his head and answered bluntly: “No.”

Masiello has demanded a lot from his 6-foot-10 sophomore forward. In recent weeks, he has instructed Lawrence to hold himself accountable — a tall order for a former top-30 recruit who had been told all his life just how talented he was. Masiello said Lawrence’s growth in that regard was the key factor behind a 19-point, six-rebound performance at the McCann Center.

“I think the light has now gone off,” Masiello said. “I think two weeks ago, three weeks ago, you’d say something to him and he’d say, ‘I believe you, but this happened.’ Now he’s saying, ‘I got you, I’m going to do it,’ no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

Lawrence looked confident, unlike the tentative offensive player he had been for much of the season. He sank a pair of jumpers, soared for an alley-oop and threw a shot fake to beat his man off the dribble for a dunk. By halftime, he had passed his previous career-high of 11 points by a field goal.

“It was pretty good,” Lawrence said. “I just let the game come to me, didn’t want to force anything, just move without the ball and pick my spots.”

Masiello had predicted Lawrence would need time to acclimate to Manhattan’s system, and a foot injury early in the season protracted that process. The Jaspers struggled to a 2-7 record, as Emmy Andujar and Shane Richards were the only two offensive threats. Then they won three of four, and Ashton Pankey broke out for 18 points in a Jan. 7 win over Saint Peter’s, prompting Masiello to say: “The key for our offense to continue to grow is AP and then Jermaine Lawrence. Now we’re starting to get AP going, and next will be Jermaine.”

Jermaine Lawrence blocks T.J. Curry's layup in the second half of Manhattan's win at Marist. OBW Photo / Kendall Loh
Jermaine Lawrence blocks T.J. Curry’s layup in the second half of Manhattan’s win at Marist. OBW Photo / Kendall Loh

With the trio of Andujar, Pankey and Richards producing consistently, Manhattan (15-12, 12-6) has won 13 of its last 18 games. They have carried the Jaspers, but Manhattan has lacked a reliable fourth scorer who can boost the offense when one or more of the big three is limited. Monday night, Andujar, Pankey and Richards combined for four points in the first half — Richards did not return to the game, and Masiello said his status is day-to-day with a knee injury — yet the Jaspers trailed Marist by a slim 31-27 margin because of Lawrence’s 13 points and five rebounds.

“I don’t think we would have won this game [Monday] without Jermaine, for real,” said Andujar, who scored all 13 of his points after the break.

“We get [Lawrence] going with AP, Emmy and Shane, we’ve got a chance,” Masiello said. “So hopefully we can continue it and just keep playing good team basketball.”

While Lawrence’s 19 points set a career-high, his six rebounds were a season-high. Remember, Masiello pulled Lawrence from the Jaspers’ exhibition win over LIU Post because the forward was not attacking the boards.

“It’s a difference maker,” Masiello said. “Ironically, the difference on the glass tonight was six.”

Perhaps the moment that exemplified Lawrence’s confidence the most came in the first half, when he leaked baseline and signaled for an alley-oop. Rashawn Stores didn’t throw a pass towards the rim, but Lawrence jumped anyway, like he needed the ball.

“He’s finally getting that lion in him, and you’re seeing it because he can’t take it out on me,” Masiello said. “He knows that wouldn’t be good, so he’s taking it out on the other team. That’s what I like to see.”

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