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Richards a force as Manhattan tops Griffs

If they gave style-points bonuses in basketball, Shane Richards would have been credited with a bunch of four-pointers Thursday night against Canisius College.

That’s how sweet a shooting stroke the 6-foot-5 Manhattan College star possesses. The ball looks like it’s going in the instant it leaves his fingertips.

Richards demolished the Golden Griffins from the perimeter, scoring a career-high 32 points in leading Manhattan to a 94-86 victory.

“He’s one of the best shooters in the country,” said Manhattan coach Steve Masiello. “He’s one of the most underrated players in the country. ... He’s going to make a lot of money playing this game. He’s going to be a great 10th man, 11th man in the NBA or make a lot of money overseas.”

The performance continued Richards’ breakout senior season. He was a good, complementary player on Manhattan’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship teams the past two years. Now he’s a team leader, averaging 18.7 points a game.

Richards scored 25 of his points in the second half, including two wide-open corner three-pointers in a 13-4 run that the Jaspers used to break away from a 58-58 tie. By that point, the crowd of 725 at the Koessler Athletic Center let out collective groans when the ball got to Richards in the corner. They knew it was going in.

“We just wanted to get movement and distort the zone a little bit,” said Richards, a New York City native. “In the second half, a lot of the shots I had were pretty open. There were some tough shots, too.”

Richards wears No. 0 because he had no other scholarship offers when he committed to Manhattan before his senior year of high school.

“We got very lucky,” Masiello said. “He didn’t play his AAU summer” due to a sore back. “If he had played on the circuit, he would have been recruited at a high-major level. We got a gift. Sometimes that happens.”

Richards also has gotten better every year. He averaged 8.2 points as a sophomore and 13.2 as a junior.

“He has a sickening work ethic, to the point where I have to come down to the gymnasium and lock the door, shut the lights out and throw him out, because he’ll just wear himself out,” Masiello said.

Richards wore out the Canisius defense, which is becoming a troubling trend.

The Griffs entered the game ranked last in the MAAC in points allowed (82.4 a game). Canisius struggled to match up in man defense with the Jaspers and got torched in a zone. The Griffs were in zone most of the first 14 minutes of the second half, when the Jaspers broke the game open.

“Pick your poison,” said Canisius coach Jim Baron. “We tried to go man, we tried to go zone. We did miss a couple of assignments with the zone, and they stepped up and made shots.”

While Canisius’ offense doesn’t miss last year’s guard tandem of Jeremiah Williams and Zach Lewis, the Griff defense misses them. Kassius Robertson, Malcolm McMillan and Isaiah Gurley all were trying to get out on Richards.

“We lost Jeremiah,” Baron said. “He was our best defensive guard last year. Now we need a guard to step up. When you got a guy like Richards, who you gonna put on him? We tried Kassius, we tried Malcolm, we tried Isaiah. But you gotta give the kid credit. He played big-time tonight.”

The Griffs shot 50 percent against Manhattan’s matchup-zone defense. Manhattan made it tough for Canisius to get open three-point shots. The Griffs were averaging 29 treys a game. They made 9 of 22.

With Manhattan stretching out its defense, forward Phil Valenti found soft spots in the lane. He scored 26 on 9 of 11 shooting. McMillan had 17.

But Manhattan shot 55.8 percent and made 14 of 22 three-pointers.

“We’re still searching,” Baron said. “We’re still trying to search for a leader, upperclassmen, somebody that’s going to pull the train.”