The ball finally bounced the Saints’ way late as Siena snapped Quinnipiac’s seven-game winning streak and extended their own streak to three with a gutsy 72-70 victory Thursday night at the TD Bank Sports Center.
“We learned at Purdue what not to do,” Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos said. “We learned at Monmouth, we learned at Marist, but we learned how to win against Niagara. We’re in a lot of close games, so maybe the ball rolled our way, but I hope we’re learning from being in a lot of these situations.”
After Zaid Hearst drilled a three-pointer from the corner to put Quinnipiac ahead 69-66 with less than a minute remaining, everything fell apart for the Bobcats.
On the next possession, Lavon Long drove to the basket and drew the fifth and final foul on Quinnipiac’s Ousmane Drame. Long made the first of his two free throws, but the second clanked off the front of the rim. A missed box-out allowed Rob Poole to corral the offensive rebound and convert a traditional three-point play to put Siena ahead 70-69.
Long’s missed free throw was one of just two misses from the charity stripe for the Saints. Siena finished the night 19 for 21 from the line, their most efficient performance of the season.
James Ford put up a three-point attempt on the next possession, but his shot fell well short of the basket and landed in the arms of Long, who went on to hit two more free throws at the other end to put the Saints up by three with just seven seconds to play.
Quinnipiac wanted to inbound the ball to Hearst for a potential game-tying three-point attempt, but Siena’s defense wouldn’t allow it and the inbound went to Justin Harris instead. Harris was fouled before he could get a shot off and made one free throw for the final margin, but the Bobcats never got another look to tie the game.
“We had about four chances to make a big play down the stretch both offensively and defensively,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “All year long we’ve made a ton of big plays in winning time, and we didn’t make them tonight.”
Despite ranking near the bottom of the nation in made three-pointers (4.2 per game), the Saints outshot the Bobcats from behind the arc. Siena went 7-17 from three-point range while Quinnipiac ended up 5-15. Part of this can be attributed to the absence of Umar Shannon later in the game, but given the proficiency of some teams in the MAAC to score from behind the arc, it can be concerning to see the Bobcats give up those baskets to a team not known for scoring from deep.
Senior Ike Azotam once again picked up a double-double, leading Quinnipiac in scoring with 15 points while pulling down 10 rebounds. Drame also pulled down a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, but battled foul trouble throughout the game and played just 18 minutes.
“It hurts, but it’s a part of the game,” Moore said of Drame’s foul troubles. “Any one of those kids could get in foul trouble on any given night. That happens in basketball, and we didn’t handle it as well as we should have.”
“To have two guys averaging double-doubles, that is really tough,” Patsos said of Quinnipiac’s duo. “Those are as good of two big guys as you can have, but we battled them.”
Hearst was held scoreless in the first half, but got going with six points in a row in the middle of the second half and finished the game with 12 points. He now sits just two points shy of the 1,000 point mark for his career. Conti and Harris rounded out the scoring for the Bobcats, with 10 and 11 points off the bench, respectively.
After playing hero earlier in the week against Niagara, Umar Shannon went down awkwardly on a drive to the basket in the second half, and was carried into the locker room with an apparent knee injury.
Poole led the Saints with 15 points as he too chases the 1,000 career point plateau and now sits just three points shy of the achievement. Brett Bisping followed close behind with 14 points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. Ryan Oliver added 11 points off the bench including three baskets from behind the arc. Marquis Wright continued to make his case for MAAC Rookie of the Year with another solid game, scoring nine points while dishing out seven assists.
Quinnipiac’s loss means Iona has now clinched the regular season title outright and will enter Springfield as the league’s top seed. The Bobcats can clinch the second seed with a win Sunday at Marist, but cannot fall below the third seed. Siena has now all but clinched the fifth seed and final bye in the MAAC tournament. The Saints can lock up their pass to Saturday in Springfield with a win against Monmouth Sunday.
As the season nears its end and the conference tournament approaches, close games like this one give a glimpse of what we can expect to see next week in Springfield.
“Welcome to the MAAC,” said Patsos. “This is the way MAAC basketball is. There’s always battles.”
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.