All five Quinnipiac starters scored in double figures as the Bobcats outlasted Niagara 89-80 in the Quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
Niagara had their way on offense early, opening up a 10 point lead less than ten minutes in, but Quinnipiac fought back with a 13-3 run to tie the game at 26. The teams traded baskets through the rest of the half until a Kasim Chandler in the waning seconds gave Quinnipiac a 38-36 lead heading into halftime.
Chandler was seen holding his left wrist following the play, but head coach Tom Moore insisted the freshman shook it off during the break. It was the freshman’s first game back since missing the last nine contests with a toe injury.
“I think the wrist is okay because he didn’t favor it at all at half-time,” Moore said. “Overall I was pleased with him. I thought there would be a little more drama involved with him coming back as a freshman playing through injuries for the first time. I thought there would be more winces and pulling up and favoring his toe and limping. He was mentally rusty, but physically he wasn’t rusty so he helped a ton.”
Quinnipiac opened the second half on a 9-2 run and never looked back. The Bobcats held a steady six point lead through the first part of the frame, until two Wesley Myers free throws cut the lead to four at 61-57. From there, Quinnipiac started to pull away as they went on a 13-2 run to open up their largest lead of the game at 15 with just under seven minutes to play.
Stellar shooting from the Bobcats’ guards helped propel the run. With Umar Shannon out for the season, Shaq Shannon, Evan Conti, and Zaid Hearst combined to go 7-11 from behind the arc. Shannon led Quinnipiac with a career-high 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting for the evening.
“After the Marist game, this group has such pride that the guards committed to taking 2,500 3’s as a group from the end of the Marist game until tonight,” Moore said. “It’s something they did on their own and they all shared in it. That’s hard work and that’s being committed to trying to win.”
With just over two minutes remaining, Niagara was able to cut the lead to five with Anthony Mason going to the line with a chance to make it a one-possession game. However, Mason missed both free throws and Quinnipiac was able to seal the game from the charity stripe down the stretch.
Ike Azotam had another big game just trailing Shannon’s team high with 18 points and six rebounds. Ousmane Drame and Zaid Hearst tallied 15 apiece, with Drame pulling down 16 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. Evan Conti started his second straight game at point guard and finished with 12 points, six assists, and four rebounds.
Niagara’s Antoine Mason led all scorers with 28 points and pulled down five rebounds. Marvin Jordan added 15 of his own while handing out four assists. Myers rounded out the scoring for the Purple Eagles with 14 points.
“I think we can hang with anybody,” head coach Chris Casey said. “I think we’ve shown that we’ve learned to compete really hard I think what we need to do now is just make a couple more plays and learn to win. I go into every game thinking we can hang with everybody.”
With the win, Quinnipiac moves on to face Manhattan in the semifinals tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The Bobcats swept the season series from the Jaspers with neither team playing at full strength for both meetings. Manhattan guard George Beamon left the first meeting in Hamden five minutes in, while Quinnipiac’s Drame missed the second meeting in Riverdale with a knee injury.
“I don’t think the fact that we beat them twice means anything at this point,” said Drame. “Once the ball goes up they have a 50 percent chance of winning we have a 50 percent chance of winning.”