Quinnipiac 70, Monmouth 61

Ousmane Drame finishes a dunk against Monmouth 1/16/2014 (photo courtesy: Matt Eisenberg)

Ousmane Drame finishes a dunk against Monmouth 1/16/2014 (photo courtesy: Matt Eisenberg)

Ousmane Drame set a new Division I program record with seven blocked shots while pulling down a career-high 21 rebounds as he powered the Quinnipiac over Monmouth 70-61 Thursday night at the TD Bank Sports Center.

After getting pushed around by the Bobcats’ big men in their last meeting just under two weeks ago, King Rice’s squad came out with a much more aggressive attitude.  The Hawks managed to take an early lead and jumped out to an 8-2 advantage on the boards in the first six minutes.  Most importantly, they were able to neutralize Quinnipiac’s Ike Azotam by drawing two early fouls on the senior forward, which forced him to sit out most of the first half.

During Azotam’s absence, Monmouth went on a 17-0 run to extend their lead to 27-16 with just under six minutes to play in the half.  However, Quinnipiac would respond with a 13-4 run to close out the half and cut the deficit to two.

The two teams traded blows during the first portion of the second half, until a pair of Azotam free throws with ten minutes remaining put the Bobcats ahead 49-47.  Monmouth would creep back within four with just over three minutes remaining, but an Umar Shannon three-pointer killed the Hawks’ momentum and helped seal the victory.

The St. Francis (PA) transfer Shannon paced the Bobcats with 16 points while handing out 5 assists.  Drame finished just behind with 15 points, while his 21 rebounds gave him his sixth double-double of the season.  Zaid Hearst matched Drame’s point total of 15 thanks in large part to three baskets from behind the arc in the second half. Azotam managed to score 10 points and pulled down 5 rebounds despite being in foul trouble much of the game and playing just 24 minutes total.  The Bobcats’ biggest scoring advantage came on second chance opportunities, where they outscored the Hawks 23-7.

“That’s one of the things the coaches emphasize a lot,” Drame said.  “Rebounding, giving us second chance points, going after loose balls, they’re all big.”

Although Azotam’s absence allowed Monmouth the opportunity to seize a sizeable lead in the middle of the first half, it also provided Drame with the opportunity to have a career day.  Always showing the potential to be a dominant big man but never quite being able to put the pieces together, the junior forward has recently become a consistent pillar for the Bobcats underneath the basket.

“He was terrific,” head coach Tom Moore said of Drame’s performance.  “He’s a talented guy.  I’ve always been trying to drag that consistent emotion out of him, and tonight I didn’t even have to drag it out of him.  He came with it tonight.  He’s a special player because on his talent alone he puts up numbers and impacts the game.  When he starts making hustle plays, he’s a difference maker and he single-handedly won this game for us tonight.”

Despite lacking Azotam’s presence most of the game, the Bobcats were able to slow the Monmouth offense considerably compared to their last meeting.  When they met on January 4 the Hawks shot nearly 48% from the floor while scoring 1.14 PPP.  This time around, Quinnipiac held Monmouth to just 38% shooting and 0.97 PPP.

“I thought the biggest difference was that our transition defense was really on point tonight,” said Moore. “We were almost caught by surprise last game at how consistently they were running the ball down our throats after we scored in the first half of that game.  I thought we were much more alert, aware, and ready for their pushes, and I thought we clogged the lane a lot better early in their transition.”

Deon Jones led the Hawks with a double-double on 16 points and 11 rebounds.  Three other Monmouth players ended the game in double-digits.  Andrew Nicholas had 14 points for the game, but had just one basket in the second half.  Zac Tillman and Josh James each ended the contest with 11 points.

Quinnipiac next plays host to Niagara in an afternoon tilt in Hamden on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 4 p.m.

Vincent Simone will be chronicling Quinnipiac’s move to the MAAC and helping cover the conference this season for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone