Three Thoughts: Quinnipiac 80, Lehigh 65

Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore knew he had seen it. At least in spurts. But maybe that was in practice or was it a scrimmage? Could he have been imagining it? Maybe Gio McLean held the key to it, but he wasn’t going to be playing this season. No, it was there in the season-opening win over a very good Yale team when they put up 88 points, and he had most certainly seen it when his team dismantled a good Vermont defense to the tune of 89 points three weeks ago.

But other times? Not so much. Like in home losses to La Salle and Hartford. And especially in an overtime defeat to Fairfield that pushed the Bobcats to 0-2 in the MAAC. That’s why Moore didn’t know what to say in post-game press conferences after those defeats. As many people as he tried to play and chairs he tried to look under, the Quinnipiac offense was MIA and the Bobcats were losers of three straight and just 3-5 on the season.

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Long-time British coach Billy Shakespeare once said, “Our doubts are traitors”, though, and Thursday night at the TD Bank Sports Center, though, poor Lehigh saw what Quinnipiac could do when they’re in full flow, crushing the young Mountain Hawks 80-65 and getting 27 offensive rebounds in the process. It was Quinnipiac’s first win over Lehigh in four years (to be fair, two of those Mountain Hawk victories included C.J. McCollum).

“It was nice to play a complete game,” Moore said. “Our calling cards all season have been rebounding and defense, that was true again here. Since the Fairfield game, we’ve shot it better, we’ve passed it to each other better, we’ve created better shots. We’re getting closer to having a little more of an offensive identity.”

Here are my thoughts from Quinnipiac, who hosts Oregon State on Sunday:

1. Cross your fingers when you play Quinnipiac – The Bobcats didn’t even shoot the ball well (30-for-73 FG, 4-for-18 3-pters), but looked smoother and more confident, turning the ball over only three times in the first half. When they’re playing like they did tonight, there is really no team in the MAAC that can match them physically. Iona can score more and a team like Manhattan might be able to force them into more turnovers, but the trio of Ousmane Drame, Justin Harris, and Zaid Hearst (with a little help from Chaise Daniels tonight) will be tough to deal with. If they can show some consistency, of course. Lehigh is very young, but they did win at DePaul already this season, remember.

“The most exciting thing I have tonight is the 22 assists on 30 baskets. In the La Salle game and the Hartford game, Fairfield game, it was like ‘Oof’ because we were stuck, our defense and rebounding were so far ahead of our offense. We talked about after that Fairfield heartbreaker, being 0-2 in the MAAC stinks and we were going to have to live with it for a month, but we did say in these four non-conference games, let’s start to get a team offensive flow and identity.”

2. Lehigh might have to shorten its rotation –  Freshman Kahron Ross came in leading the Mountain Hawks with 27.3 minutes per game, and led Lehigh with 28 minutes tonight. Nine players average 10 minutes or more, but – at least on this night – it looked like Brett Reed was grasping at straws, some of which is to be expected with only one senior among the top eight in a rotation. Lehigh had been decent on the glass before tonight’s game, and the bigger problem going forward might be shooting, especially from the perimeter. Tim Kempton will likely do his thing inside (and Justin Goldsborough added a couple of nice post moves), but Austin Price leads the Mountain Hawks with just 12 three-pointers. Even in the blowout loss, Lehigh turned the ball over only nine times.

“We have a core nucleus of players that we expect to play at a high level,” Reed said. “We need them to play at a high level. In order for us to be successful in the Patriot League, they have to fulfill their responsibilities and their roles within the minutes that they’re granted. If they’re unable to do so, we’ll have to find other players that can.”

3. Zaid Hearst was happy to pass the ball more – Hearst finished with a career-high eight assists and scored “just” 13 points to go along with seven rebounds to fill the stat sheet. Two of the players he was able to pass to were guards James Ford (a career-high 12 points) and Ayron Hutton. Hutton had played three minutes all season before getting six minutes in a loss at Boston Sunday, but played 18 tonight, scoring five points and adding five assists of his own.

“I was just making reads,” Hearst said. “I’ve noticed the last couple games when I drive a lot, guys from the top of the key start to rake in. So the coaches have been preaching for the guards who pass me the ball to space out, and I hit a lot of guys today. And guys made the shots, too.”

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