Three Thoughts: Quinnipiac Sweeps Manhattan in OT

Quinnipiac defeated Manhattan 90-86 in overtime at Draddy Gymnasium on Sunday afternoon. We have a full recap and Vincent Simone has three thoughts from the game.

1.) Rebounding is a culture, not a product of player size.

Tom Moore has continually reinforced the belief that his team’s success at rebounding is not a product of the size of the players on the floor, but the mentality with which those players attack the game.  The Bobcats rank as the number 1 rebounding team in the country and have finished in the top two nationally in rebounding over the last three years.

“It’s a culture,” Moore said after a win against Iona on January 6.  “They earn it every day in practice.  We have a lot of physical box-out drills and we do at least something to work on it every day.”

Ike Azotam plays against Fairfield 12/6/13 (Photo credit: Quinnipiac Athletics)

Ike Azotam plays against Fairfield 12/6/13 (Photo credit: Quinnipiac Athletics)

With the move to the MAAC, players and coaches have remarked at the size difference between their competition in their new league as compared to the NEC.  Coach Moore commented on the difference between the two leagues after the victory at Manhattan Sunday night:

“From my first impressions of the league, it seems like 1 through 5, at every position, like we’re facing guys 2-3 inches taller than we were facing and probably 20% more athletic at every position.”

The Bobcats are still getting it done on the glass despite seeing their 49-game streak of not being out-rebounded come to an end at Iona Friday night.  Although the team clearly missed junior forward Ousmane Drame in that loss, they bounced back strong at Manhattan with their sixth 50-rebound performance of the year in a game where they once again lacked Drame’s presence inside.  The train keeps on rolling.

2.) These Bobcats are a resilient bunch.

The Bobcats took a 10-point lead into the final 5:00 of their game against Manhattan, but saw it disappear in the blink of an eye as the Jaspers went on a 13-point run to regain the lead.  Despite losing their lead and watching fouls rack up, the team did not lose focus and managed to pull away in overtime.

“We weren’t panicking,” said Moore. “I was probably panicking more than the guys were. I wasn’t happy with myself in the second half on the sidelines. I thought I could’ve been more composed. Our guys though never lost their composure.”

Outside of the last two games were the Bobcats have missed Drame due to injury, Quinnipiac has featured a starting lineup of five upperclassmen all year.  This abundance of experience in the lineup is a welcome change from years past where underclassmen were forced into starting roles, and has led to one of the most efficient offensive teams Quinnipiac has ever seen.

          3.) Ike Azotam is a serious Player of the Year candidate.

We’re still in the middle of the conference schedule and a long way off from awards season, but I’m willing to put Azotam up for Player of the Year in QU’s first season in the MAAC.  The favorite for the honor is likely Canisius’ Billy Baron, who looks like Superman leading the Golden Griffins to first place in the MAAC, but Azotam also has the numbers to back up his claim to the title.

Azotam ranks at the top of the MAAC in all rebounding categories and third in the nation in rebounds per game with 11.7.  He is the only player in the country averaging 5.0 offensive rebounds per game and is tied for second in the nation with 13 double-doubles on the year.  In addition, Azotam ranks in the top 10 of the MAAC in scoring, field goal percentage, blocked shots, and minutes played. In two games thus far without front-court mate Drame, Azotam has not missed a beat, averaging 19.5 ppg and 14 rpg.   

He has been getting the job done on both the offensive and defensive sides of the floor, and that’s what makes him different.  While the MAAC has some of the most prolific scorers in the country, with Baron among the top five in the nation, Azotam’s ability to defend aggressively while also putting up some of the top offensive numbers in the conference (16.6 ppg) sets him apart.

Perhaps the most dominant forward to play for Quinnipiac was 2011 graduate Justin Rutty, who won NEC player of the year honors in the 2009-10 season.  Rutty averaged 15.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg, and 4.9 orpg that year.  Azotam is on pace to have statistically one of the best season ever for a Quinnipiac forward as his numbers of 16.6 ppg, 11.7 rpg, and 5.0 orpg each eclipse Rutty’s marks from 2009-10.  However, the MAAC is not the NEC.  Sacred Heart’s Corey Hassan led the NEC in scoring at 19.2 ppg in 2009-10 whereas the MAAC is projected to have multiple players averaging over 20 ppg this year. 

Fortunately for us as fans of the game, we get to see these fantastic athletes battle it out on the court.  We will get to see both Azotam and Baron on the floor Thursday, Jan. 30 as Quinnipiac hosts Canisius at 7:30 p.m. in a game televised live on SNY.  Something tells me both players will want to make their cases for the award in front of the cameras.

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.

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