For all intents and purposes, the game was over. Quinnipiac led by double digits and time was not only a factor, it precluded a Manhattan comeback with only 90 seconds left.
But as Manhattan sharpshooter Shane Richards ran off screens, Zaid Hearst was still with him every step of the way, just as he had been for the first 38 minutes of the game. Richards finally got one last good look when Hearst decided to switch with James Ford, but it rimmed out and Richards – who had scored 22, 21, and 21 in his last three games – put up a goose egg as Quinnipiac climbed back to .500 in the MAAC with an impressive 73-59 national television victory at the TD Bank Center Friday night.
It’s likely that Hearst will be a first-team MAAC selection when we get to March, his 23-point performance (to go along with zero turnovers in 38 minutes) means he’s one of 18 players in Division I averaging 20 or more points per game. But sometimes his defense, not as tangible on a nightly basis, gets overlooked. On Friday, however, it was right there in black and white next to Shane Richards’ name: 0-11 from the field, 0-8 from behind the arc, 0 points. It was not only the first time a MAAC team had held him scoreless since his freshman year (March 2012), it was the first time he didn’t hit a three-pointer in that span.
“I hope he wins Defensive Player of the Year in the league,” Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said. “Sometimes because he’ll probably be first-team all league or whatever, but I just said in the locker room, we had James Johnson running around here for four years that used to do that, to take one of their best players out of the game and still play great offense. To hold Shane Richards scoreless and not foul him? The number of screens that he (Hearst) had to go through, and we’re telling Z to win the spot on the screen every time so Shane Richards doesn’t have that split second to get it off and he did it every time. They flare-screened Richards maybe 50 times tonight and Z got through every single one. Richards is on a roll right now, and Zaid was in his shorts on every possession.”
It was another frustrating night for Manhattan (8-10, 5-4) who shot 8-35 from the field in the first half, 3-23 for players not named Emmy Andujar, who who would finish the night with 25 points (a season-high and three off his career-high) and 12 rebounds. Even so, the Jaspers – who only trailed by 10 at the half even with those gruesome offensive numbers – battled all the way back to tie the game at 41 on an Andujar drive with 9:40 left.
But when the turnovers stopped, Quinnipiac was able to find good looks and pulled away with a 20-6 run.
“We battled with them on the boards (Manhattan had 20 offensive rebounds, although that number is mitigated a bit with all the missed shots, a 40.8% rate is still excellent though),” Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said. “But you can’t let a team like that get momentum going. We battled back, tied it up, and missed a couple of opportunities to take the lead, actually. They got momentum, (Evan) Conti hit a big three, so give them credit. They made enough plays to win this game. I didn’t think either team shot the ball well, but they certainly shot it better than we did.”
While Andujar and Ashton Pankey (18 points) continue to play well, Manhattan hasn’t been able to get enough offense out of their guards. RaShawn Stores hit a pair of three-pointers in the run that got Manhattan back in the game to start the second half, but he finished with just seven points on 2-9 shooting. Rich Williams managed just three points (on only two field goal attempts) in 16 minutes, Donovan Kates didn’t even get a shot off in 16 minutes, while Tyler Wilson is not a threat from the outside when he’s at the point.
So when Richards was neutralized by Hearst, Manhattan didn’t have many options to turn to and finished at just 0.88 points per possession.
“I was joking with Tom and Zaid before the game trying to get Zaid a fifth year with me,” Masiello said.
Meanwhile, Quinnipiac (11-8, 5-5) was won five of six and looks more and more like a potential MAAC threat with no dominant team in the conference. Ousmane Drame had 12 points and 19 rebounds, technically off the bench, but he played 34 minutes (Hearst joked that Drame’s knee was 87% healthy now), and freshman Chaise Daniels gives them more frontcourt depth, scoring a career-high 11 points in 22 minutes.
The Bobcats are still 329th nationally in eFG% (43.4), and dead last in MAAC play (41.9%), but much of that came with the dreadful performances to start the conference season. But while half the MAAC season still remains, those 0-4 days are long behind them. Quinnipiac has a full week off before embarking on a big Buffalo trip to Canisius and Niagara next weekend. After that they close with five of eight at home, and if they can get the support they got Friday (a near sellout of 3,038 at TD Bank), they’re a veteran team that will be tougher and tougher to stop.
“The atmosphere was great,” Moore said. “The students are back. It was great last night for the women’s game (Quinnipiac’s women are 17-3, 9-0 in the MAAC, and routed nine-time defending champ Marist Thursday). I was happy for them last night. They deserve it. And I was happy for us tonight. Friday night, 7 o’clock, kids can get all their stuff done they’re supposed to get done, get something to eat and come over here … But what comes with that is you have to produce. If we get this atmosphere and don’t play well, they might not want to come back.”