A visit from a struggling Marist team was just what the doctor ordered for a Quinnipiac team looking to fight its way back into the MAAC race. The Bobcats dispatched the Red Foxes 66-54 and improved to 2-4 in MAAC play while Marist still seeks its first conference victory. Here are three thoughts from Sunday’s game:
Freshman Ayron Hutton has worked his way into the starting lineup and looks like he’s here to stay. Quinnipiac has been ranked in the bottom half of the nation in 3-point shooting percentage all season, but Hutton has given the Bobcats a boost in that department in recent weeks. The freshman guard was an efficient 4-5 from behind the arc Sunday afternoon.
Ever since head coach Tom Moore decided to give Hutton extended playing time, that lack of perimeter shooting has been one less problem on his shoulders. Over their last three games, the Bobcats are shooting 41.4% from beyond the arc, significantly above their season average of 30.8%.
“I’m just trying to get everyone great shots like coach Moore preaches,” Hutton said. “I’ve got a lot of great scorers around me. They make my job easier by making shots, and I was getting my own good looks and knocking them down.”
In those three games, Hutton has played at least 28 minutes and found himself as the starting point guard for two of them. Hutton poured in a career high 16 points against Iona last week and added another 15 Sunday afternoon against Marist.
“He’s got a high IQ for offense, and he’s a terrific passer,” Moore said of Hutton. “Now he’s starting to get stronger, believing more, and shooting more of a full-speed shot from outside. When they go in, it just gives him more and more belief, so it was a great afternoon for him and his confidence.”
After a bit of a lapse, Ousmane Drame seems to have regained his confidence. The Bobcats have counted on their 6’9” forward to be a dominant force in the paint, carrying the mantle of past Quinnipiac bigs such as Justin Rutty and Ike Azotam.
Following a pair of blasé outings to start MAAC play, Drame has spent a lot more time on the bench. In the Bobcats’ first four conference outings, the senior forward reached double figures just once (12 points and 14 rebounds against Fairfield).
For a big man who averages a double-double (13.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg) and put together eight such games in his team’s first 13 contests, just one of them came in conference play. Drame has started the last three games on the Bobcats’ bench, but has produced two of his best outings in the last pair of games.
In a critical matchup against longtime foe Monmouth last Friday, Drame’s double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds was vital to Quinnipiac pulling out their first MAAC win. Drame followed that performance with another strong showing off the bench Sunday afternoon, posting 15 points and 13 rebounds against Marist for his tenth double-double of the season.
“The difference comes in with the record itself,” Drame said. “Being 0-4 before our first win at Monmouth you feel so much pressure on yourself individually and collectively as a team to do a lot more and little things just becomes bigger. Due to that alone, we’ve come together collectively and been playing a lot better than we have in the past.”
“For Quinnipiac to win this year, everybody needs Ousmane to be like he’s been the last two games,” Moore added. “Our guys care about each other a lot and know he’s very important.”
Marist is finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. It may be a faint glimmer, but there’s hope on the horizon for coach Mike Maker and the Red Foxes.
Redshirt sophomore Khallid Hart returned to Marist’s starting lineup for the first time since injuring his left foot against Army in the second game of the season. Last year’s MAAC Rookie of the Year averaged 24.5 ppg in those first two games before missing the last 13 contests.
Though he started Sunday’s game at Quinnipiac and played 26 minutes, the rust of a long layoff still lingered in Hart’s game. He was held to just two points, both of which came on a pair of free throws in the final minute of the first half.
“He’s a little rusty, but when I missed three games I came back rusty too,” Marist senior Chavaughn Lewis said of Hart. “He’s going to be a big lift for us. T.J. [Curry] is back practicing with us too. Once these guys get back it’s going to make things a lot easier on us.”
Marist’s lackluster record (1-15, 0-6 MAAC) is indicative of the team they’ve been forced to field over the first half of the season. However, the hourglass is tipped in Marist’s favor. The return of Hart is just the first step toward the Red Foxes realizing their full potential.
Maker’s squad has had to rely on Lewis (19.3 ppg) and junior Phillip Lawrence (10.5 ppg) to provide the lion’s share of points this season. Lewis led all scorers Sunday with 18 points, and with Hart already back and Curry’s return on the horizon, the Red Foxes might just be able to put the pieces together come March.
“We’ve got the rest of the season left, plus the [MAAC] tournament,” Lewis added. “That’s really what matters. Everybody makes the tournament, so at the end of the day we should be good in February and from there on, we just push forward toward the goal.”
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.