Canisius 86, Quinnipiac 74

A career night for Zaid Hearst was not enough to overcome the potent Canisius offense as the Golden Griffins defeated Quinnipiac 86-74 Thursday night at the TD Bank Sports Center.

After setting a career-high with 25 points at Manhattan earlier in the week, Hearst bested that total with a new record of 33 against Canisius.

“Zaid just had a terrific game,” said head coach Tom Moore.  “He showed toughness and emotion all night, he sacrificed himself defensively, and just hawked [Billy] Baron all night.”

The story of the Griffins offense for once did not revolve around star guard Billy Baron.  While Baron ended up with a team-high 20 points, he was held to just five in the first half while his teammates helped build a considerable lead.

Canisius led by as much as 18 midway through the opening half.  They shot 53% from the field in the first half and made seven three-pointers while holding Quinnipiac to 29% shooting from the field.  Freshman, and Windsor, Connecticut native, Zach Lewis knocked down three shots from downtown and led the Griffs with 14 points at the break as they held a 41-32 lead over the Bobcats.

“We dug ourselves a big hole early, but I felt good at halftime,” said Moore.  “We were dead in the water early and cut an 18 point lead down to nine at halftime.  But you just can’t spot a team this good 18 points.”

Quinnipiac came out with momentum in the second half, and after back to back dunks from Zaid Hearst and Ousmane Drame, cut the deficit to two.  However, the Bobcats could not get over the hump as Canisius responded with a 7-0 run to get the lead back up to nine.  The lead would never drop below eight for the rest of the game, and Baron’s eight free throws made would help the Golden Griffins ice the game.

“We just couldn’t get a stop,” said Hearst.  “We were right there. We were close, but when we needed a stop, we just couldn’t get it.”

Despite Quinnipiac leading the nation in rebounding at 47.1 rpg, they ended the game tied with Canisius at 38.  Drame returned to action after missing the Bobcats’ last two games with a knee sprain suffered in practice last week.  He was limited to just 23 minutes of action during which he scored six points and pulled down eight rebounds.

“He felt pretty good,” said Moore of Drame.  “He was rusty early obviously.  I think offensively he was trying to play the same game he was playing before he got hurt.  The thing I liked about him in the last week was his desire to come back as quick as possible.  There’s no holding back in Ousmane.  He’s excited about the season the team is having and the season he’s having individually, and he wanted it to continue.”

Canisius made just one of seven attempts from behind the arc in the second half, but continued to shoot well from the field overall.  They finished 51.8% from the field, the second highest percentage Quinnipiac has allowed this season (52.7% to Albany).  The Golden Griffins’ hot start allowed them to score 1.17 PPP in the first half, and they were able to increase that number to 1.21 PPP by the end of the game while holding QU to just 1.04 PPP overall.

“I thought we missed some assignments,” said Moore.  “I didn’t think we had a crispness, or a sharpness, or a toughness to a lot of little things we do defensively – some rotations, some closeouts.  Because we were playing bad offense too, I thought we allowed them to get going in transition early.”

Baron’s 20 points led Canisius, but valuable contributions from his teammates helped propel the Golden Griffins.  Lewis ended up just behind Baron with 17 points of his own, while Chris Perez added 15 points and five assists. Four other players scored at least five points for the Griffins.

“Teams spend so much time trying to stop him [Billy] that they leave other guys open,” said Canisius head coach Jim Baron.  “It’s a team game, and Billy can still make plays with that attention, but I thought guys stepped up.  We had Lewis, Perez, and other guys really step up and make plays.”

Hearst added six rebounds to go along with his career-high 33 points, while Ike Azotam fell just short of a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.  Evan Conti provided a spark off the bench as he too nearly recorded a double-double with 11 points and eight assists.  It was the third straight game Conti has scored in double figures.

“He finally had a couple good things happen for him,” said Moore of Conti.  “The kid is incredibly resilient and incredibly tough.  He comes to practice and every game with emotion and energy and really just trying to get us a win any way he can.  He had eight assists and no turnovers, and he was one of the few guys that I thought was not afraid to split their zone and make a good play for us.”

Quinnipiac now turns the page to February, where Moore has had an exceptional coaching record in his time with the Bobcats.  Over the last five years, Quinnipiac has posted a 32-8 record in the month of February.  However, that record was compiled against NEC competition, and Moore acknowledges it will be more of a challenge to replicate that mark in the MAAC.

“We have a taller task right now,” said Moore.  “The middle and bottom part of this league is harder than we will have faced in the last six years. We’re going to have our hands full Saturday night against Siena.  They’re one game behind us, and that place will be alive.  It’s going to be different for these guys this month than it’s been in years past.  We have some really tough challenges that we’re going to have to continue to work hard to take on.”

The Bobcats will try to rebound Saturday, February 1st when they travel to Albany to take on Siena for the first time this year.  The Saints sit just one game behind Quinnipiac after defeating Niagara 66-62 on Thursday night.  Tip-off is set for 7 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.

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