Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said afterward he would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the La Salle huddle to see what Dr. John Giannini did to keep his team upbeat even when they were going through a hideous offensive night, trailing by double digits six minutes into the second half Tuesday night at the TD Bank Center.
It turned out, Giannini’s message really wasn’t all that complicated.
“The only change was we weren’t afraid to shoot,” Giannini said. “Our guards have been petrified to shoot the ball. We have guys putting up shot fakes with no one on them. It’s almost comical. D.J. (Peterson) and Jordan (Price) made some big shots, and Khalid (Lewis) and Amar (Stukes) at least took some big shots. We just can’t be afraid to shoot.”
La Salle grabbed the lead with a 12-0 run over two minutes (after scoring just 30 points in the first 26 minutes of the contest), and held on for a 60-58 road win, handing Quinnipiac its first loss of the season.
“We had no offensive flow all night and we shot 29% from the field,” Moore said. “That speaks for itself. They took us out of any kind of perimeter stuff we wanted to do. We couldn’t run anything.”
The Explorers, who beat Colgate in their opener despite a similarly poor offensive night, finished just 22-for-62 from the field (.355), but actually made 12 of their final 20 attempts. They were 1-of-17 from three-point range before Cleon Roberts hit one, Peterson followed with back-to-back threes, and Price added another for an all-three 12-0 run.
“Our defense has been terrific all year. What happened in the second half is we had become not afraid to shoot,” Giannini said. “And why they would be afraid to shoot? I have no idea. I’m looking at the stats and we missed a lot of free throws and obviously they outrebound everyone they play, and we still find a way to win.”
Indeed, it was a familiar pattern for Moore and Quinnipiac fans, who finished with a 59-35 rebounding edge including 21 offensive boards, but lost anyway. Neither Ousmane Drame nor Zaid Hearst – both seniors – had a good game, Drame (10 pts., 11 rebs.) particularly missed some short-range shots down the stretch and turned the ball over four times. Hearst scored a game-high 18 points, but was harassed into a 7-for-21 shooting night. Starting guards Kasim Chandler and Evan Conti combined to shoot 1-for-12.
In all, the Bobcats finished just 28.6% from the floor, other than two games against UConn in his first couple of seasons, the lowest mark in the Tom Moore era at Quinnipiac. Moore correctly identified the only other time his team was under 30%, a heartbreaking 51-50 NEC loss to Danny Hurley and Wagner three seasons ago.
“They kept coming and coming at us on every possession,” Moore said. “They blew up every screen and every cut, and we just didn’t deal with it well.”
In the end, Quinnnipiac – who played without freshman Samuel Dingba who suffered a minor knee injury in the opener against Yale – still had chances to win. Hearst got the Bobcats within 58-56 by making a driving layup with 54 seconds left and after the Bobcats got a stop, Hearst was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 12 seconds remaining. He hit the first two to tie the game, but missed the final one (only Quinnipiac’s fourth miss in 25 free throw attempts), and La Salle was at least able to box out enough to make the Bobcats knock the ball out of bounds.
Price, who had missed the front end of a one-and-one a minute before drove the lane and a helping James Ford was called for a foul with 3.2 seconds left (Moore later said he thought it was a good call). Price calmly hit both free throws and Hearst didn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.
“Our defense is very good,” Price said. “We just try to pressure their guards and make them take bad shots, and we’ve held teams to very low percentages so far.”
There were some positives for Quinnipiac. Senior Justin Harris played 27 minutes off the bench and had nine points and a career-high 12 rebounds, Alain Chigha hit their only three-pointer for his first career points, and La Salle – although picked to finish in the middle of the Atlantic 10 pack this season – was in the Sweet 16 just two seasons ago.
But in the short-term, it’s another game that slipped through Quinnipiac’s hands.