Quinnipiac 88, Canisius 81

The return of Umar Shannon sparked Quinnipiac Thursday night, as they held on for a crucial 88-81 victory over Canisius at the Koessler Athletic Center in Buffalo.  With the win, Quinnipiac improved to 13-4 in MAAC play and maintained its second place tie with Manhattan.

Zaid Hearst was spectacular from the line against Canisius 2/20/14

Zaid Hearst was nearly perfect from the line Thursday night as he guided Quinnipiac down the stretch against Canisius.  (Photo Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics)

After ending up deadlocked on the boards in their first meeting at 38 apiece, Quinnipiac sought to establish the tone on the glass early.  The Bobcats held a 30-13 advantage on the boards at halftime and finished the game with a 49-27 edge.  Quinnipiac grabbed as many offensive rebounds (16) as Canisius did on the defensive side.

“We were even in rebounding the first time, but rebounding is effort,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said.  “I told our guys, ‘When you come around a second time, you’ve got to be more intense and more ready.’  I thought Quinnipiac was really aggressive going to the glass early.  They deserved it.”

Following a Billy Baron layup at 10:49 of the first half that tied the game at 15, Quinnipiac took the lead on an AJ Sumbry layup at the other end and never looked back.  The Bobcats finished the first half on a 13-2 run, including 11 unanswered to take a 42-27 lead into halftime.

It was the start of the second half when Quinnipiac was most thankful for Shannon’s return.  Shannon knocked down two shots from behind the arc to start the half, as he scored the Bobcats’ first eight points of the frame.  Shannon ended the game with a team-high 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting including a 4-6 mark from deep.

Quinnipiac maintained a double-digit lead through most of the second half until things started to get interesting with just under four minutes remaining.  Canisius decided to extend the game and start fouling with about three minutes left in regulation.  Combined with a press which seemed to rattle the Quinnipiac guards at times, the Griffs began to climb their way back into the game.

Canisius went 10-of-11 from the field for a stretch in the final minutes thanks largely to Baron’s ability to bring the ball down the court with urgency.  At one point in the final minutes, Baron scored 11 points in a row, mostly on quick layups against a lax Quinnipiac defense which seemed content to trade points for time off the clock.

After growing their lead to as much as 19 midway through the second half, Quinnipiac saw the gap shrink to just four after a Baron layup off a Zach Lewis steal with 0:52 remaining made it 79-75.  After another layup from Phil Valenti, the Golden Griffins’ offense finally went cold and the Bobcats were able to widen the gap back to as much as nine in the waning seconds thanks to excellent free throw shooting.

The wild final four minutes of the game saw both teams combine for a whopping 52 points.  This unusual mark was due to a perfect storm of Canisius deciding to start fouling early combined with the Griffs’ hot shooting from the floor and Quinnipiac’s efficiency at the free throw line.

Zaid Hearst led the way for the Bobcats down the stretch.  The junior guard was 17-18 from the charity stripe for the night, including a stretch of 10 straight in the final minutes.  As a team, Quinnipiac was 31-36 from the free throw line for the night and has a 72.3% free throw percentage for the season, the best mark in head coach Tom Moore’s tenure.  Ousmane Drame racked up 14 points and 13 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the year.  Drame (13.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and Ike Azotam (16.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg) are now the only pair of teammates in Division I to average a double-double.

Baron had another spectacular game for the Golden Griffins, finishing with a game-high 31 points and six assists.  Chris Manhertz returned to the starting lineup after missing the last three games with a facial injury sustained against Manhattan on Feb. 7.  Manhertz was extremely effective in the early going, scoring the Griffs’ first eight points of the game.  He finished with 14 points and led the team with seven rebounds.  Chris Perez rounded out the scoring for Canisius with 14 of his own.

Quinnipiac will look to sweep their western New York trip when they visit Niagara on Saturday afternoon.  The Bobcats took the first meeting 85-71 in Hamden on Jan. 18.  Tip-off is set for 3 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.