Three Thoughts: Quinnipiac 89, Niagara 80

Three thoughts from Quinnipiac’s 89-80 victory over Niagara in the final quarterfinal game of the MAAC tournament.

Bobcats Void for Shannon Filled by Another Shannon: The Quinnipiac Bobcats have had to adjust to life without graduate transfer Umar Shannon and his 14.3 points per game since they lost him to injury against Siena.

When Ike Azotam was not in the game during the first half, after exiting with two fouls with 8:14 left in the half, the Bobcats struggled to move the ball. They went just under two minutes without a point. Freshman Kasim Chandler returned from injury, but it’s not apparent that he is fully healthy and Ousmane Drame has had a brace on his right knee for the second half of the season.

However, senior Shaq Shannon had something to say about how they could replace Umar’s scoring by adding a career-high 20 points and game-high four three-pointers.

Head coach Tom Moore said that his group of guards, following their loss Sunday to Marist, committed to each other to make 2,500 three-pointers on their own prior to their first MAAC tournament game.

“This group has such pride, the guards committed to taking 2,500 three’s as a group, from the end of the Marist game until tonight, it’s something they did on their own,” Moore said. “They all shared in it, they texted each other how many they took and how many they made. You’re talking Monday through yesterday and that’s hard work, that’s being committed to trying to win.”

Shannon said he made probably made around 400 three-pointers, which was practice enough for his five tonight.

Azotam-Drame Combo Key for Quinnipiac: For all of those who thought Ike Azotam should not have been on the first team, the senior showed off why he is such a tough player to stop on Saturday.

Azotam-Stockton-Photo
Ike Azotam drives to the basket in Saturday’s quarterfinal game against Niagara. (photo courtesy: Stockton Photo)

Whenever the Bobcats needed a basket, the senior drove the lane, created contact and got the baskets he needed on his way to a 18 point, six rebound performance against Niagara to help the Bobcats advance to Sunday to play Manhattan.

“We’re almost trying to tell defenses to try and figure out a way to stop them,” Moore said of Azotam and Drame’s game this season. “We work a great deal on playing in to out and the great thing about Ike and Ous ism not only are they very talented offensive players, they’re willing passers too.”

Meanwhile his junior second-team All-MAAC counterpart Ousmane Drame showed up as well posting a 15 point, 16 rebound performance and dominated the glass against an undersized Niagara.

Moore said that their attacking the basket has helped all season open up the game for the guards, even without Umar Shannon.

“They take what the defense gives them and they’re both gifted and willing passers, so that keeps our perimeter guys engaged,” Moore said. “All our perimeter guys love throwing it in to them because they put so much pressure on the defense to do something. A lot of our guys play in to out and we really try to attack the weak side and I think that’s where our guards have got so good this year, from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, instinctively playing to the weak side on kick outs.”

Mason Can Do Anything, but Purple Eagles Need More: Niagara junior Antoine Mason, who may have felt slighted for being on the second team, and he has shown why he will be a first team All-MAAC player when the preseason picks are out in October.

Mason lit up Marist for 38 points in the first round and can find ways to put the ball in the basket. He drove the lane, using both hands on one-handed runners.

Mason said he struggled to find a rhythm, despite tallying a game-high 28 points, because of how much Zaid Hearst and the Bobcats crowded him.

“I felt confident, it was just a couple of in and outs,” Mason said. “It’s basketball, so you just have to stay confident and believe in yourself.”

The junior managed to show off his overall game on the night, creating for himself and driving int he lane and getting contact, but he uncharacteristically missed six free throws on the night. Two of those came late in the second half with the Purple Eagles trailing 79-74, if Mason made those freebies the lead would have been cut to three with 2:09 left. The Purple Eagles could not cut it into the lead from that point on after Mason’s misses.

First year head coach Chris Casey preaches that the junior needs his teammates to step up to make him an even more lethal scorer and he had a supporting cast tonight that showed up late. Wesley Myers and Marvin Jordan added double-digit points for the Purple Eagles. However, the winning plays that were there on Thursday against Marist did not happen when Niagara needed them most.

“I think we’ve shown that we’ve learned to compete really really hard, I think what we need to do now is just make a couple more plays and learn to win,” Casey said.

While a 7-26 record might be a disappointment in Casey’s first season, the Purple Eagles have young talent and considering how close they were to breaking through during the final month of the season, there are plenty of reason for optimism as the team heads into Mason’s senior season.

Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and America East conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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