For Quinnipiac, the celebration of its seniors started before the puck dropped...
Quinnipiac men’s basketball moves on to the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament
On Saturday night at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, Mass. the No. 3 seed Quinnipiac University men’s basketball team defeated the No. 11 seed Niagara University Purple Eagles, 89-80. The Bobcats move on to the semifinals where a matchup with the No. 2 seed Manhattan Jaspers on Sunday awaits them.
In their inaugural season in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Bobcats have found themselves in the semifinals of the conference tournament behind Shaq Shannon’s career-best 20 points. Shannon, who was averaging just 5.5 points per game this season, came up big when it mattered most stepping up in the absence of injured point guard Umar Shannon.
“Shaq Shannon’s game tonight, you’re not going to find a nicer kid, and a more dedicated kid to our program than him,” head coach Tom Moore said. “I’m happy he had the game he had tonight. He’s an incredible worker.”
The two teams traded baskets for the first six minutes, before Niagara would go on a 9-0 run to open up a 23-13 lead with just more than 10 minutes remaining in the first half. The Bobcats would then go on an impressive 13-3 run to tie the game at 26 with just over four minutes remaining in the first half. The teams would then continue to trade baskets for the remainder of the half until an acrobatic layup by Kasim Chandler with 20 seconds left in the half put the Bobcats 38-36 at the half.
As the teams returned for the second half the Bobcats held on to a four point lead before going on a 13-2 run to break the game open taking a 74-59 lead. The Bobcats had four players in double figures at this point, including 11 for Ike Azotam, 13 for Zaid Hearst, 15 for Ousmane Drame as well as 16 for Shannon. The Bobcats were dominant in the paint during this run as Drame and Azotam came out firing after the break scoring 10 of the team’s first 12 points.
“It’s tough, those guys work hard,” said Niagara’s Marcus Ware, about Azotam and Drame. “I just try and match their intensity level and work just as hard.”
Niagara would make a comeback in this game cutting the Bobcats lead to five with just more than two minutes left in the game, 79-74. Ike Azotam converted a three-point play to bring the lead back up to eight with 1:48 to play in the game. The Purple Eagles cut the lead back down to six but that is as close as they could get with the Bobcats hitting 8 of 11 free throws down the stretch.
“As it happens in most of these tournament games it comes down to a few plays here or there,” Niagara head coach Chris Casey said.
The Purple Eagles were led by Antoine Mason who, in two tournament games for Niagara, played all 80 minutes of basketball with 28 points.
The Bobcats will take on the Jaspers of Manhattan College. They have already beaten the Jaspers twice this season, but they are not taking anything that happened in the past in to consideration for their semifinal matchup.
“I don’t think the fact that we’ve beat them twice means anything at this point,” Drame said. “Once the ball goes up we have a 50 percent chance of winning and they have a 50 percent chance of winning. They have five guys, we have five guys.”
The game between the No. 2 seed Jaspers and No. 3 seed Bobcats will take place on Sunday, March 9 at 7 p.m. at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, Mass., with a berth in the MAAC Championship and a date with either the Iona Gaels or Canisius Golden Griffins on the line.
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Former teammates behind opposing benches at the Frozen Four