Three Thoughts: Quinnipiac 60, Fairfield 59 (A Bill Carmody Sighting)

Bill Carmody stood in his purple shirt Friday night at Webster Bank Arena and he could have been transported to Northwestern a few years back or maybe even Princeton a few years before that. He’s been out of the game for a couple of years now since being fired by Northwestern. He never did get the Wildcats where he got Princeton twice, the NCAA Tournament, even though he was there 13 seasons.

He came damn close, though, with four straight NIT appearances at one point, and his 1-3-1 and Princeton offenses gave more talented teams fits, although Carmody never did quite get enough talent to Chicago to get them over the NCAA hump.

But it was just like old times as Carmody told Marcus Gilbert what he needed late in a close game against Quinnipiac.

Until the referees quietly told him to sit down. Assistant coaches aren’t allowed to stand after all. You can forgive Carmody for forgetting, he hasn’t been an assistant in two decades, but tired (after two years) of not being around the college game, Carmody is starting his fourth week as a “special assistant” to Johnson, who played for him when he was an assistant for some very successful Princeton teams in the mid-90s. It’s not a coincidence that the Stags scored on more back-door cuts than usual Friday.

So far Carmody’s presence hasn’t paid dividends in the win column as Quinnipiac extended the Fairfield losing streak to eight by pulling out a 60-59 victory when Marcus Gilbert (who led the Fairfield comeback) missed on two close tries.

It was very interesting, however, to watch a man like Carmody, who had coached in the Big Ten for more than a decade and was just helping a friend, really, react on the sidelines throughout the night: sometimes head in hands, a shake of the head, a fistpump after a big play, up and clapping at time outs.

For the people that love this game like we (and probably most of you) do? Watching a guy like Carmody tells you all you need to know.

“I love Coach (Carmody), and the respect I have for him is endless,” Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. “Quite frankly, it’s just another guy who knows how I want to play. We’ve gone back and forth literally since the day he got on campus and he’s certainly had a positive influence and impact on our basketball program.”

Here are my other thoughts from Webster Bank Arena Friday night, as Quinnipiac chased the elusive No. 5 seed and a first-round MAAC Tournament bye:

1. Sometimes things even out – Way back in what seems like a different era (Dec. 7), Marcus Gilbert hit a three-pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation and Fairfield (6-19, 4-11) beat Quinnipiac (14-10, 8-7) for its second straight MAAC victory to open the season, putting them at 2-0 and the Bobcats at 0-2. It took the Karma Police a few months, but when Gilbert (22 pts. 9 rebs) got the ball with a chance to win in the final seconds, he got to within five feet of the basket and got two very good (if contested) shots off. Neither went in, and this time it was Quinnipiac who had a big road victory on a night Zaid Hearst and Ousmane Drame combined to shoot 7-27, even on a night where Fairfield played without post players Marcus Gilbert and Amadou Sidibe (both injured).

“I have a philosophy that it seems like all these things wash out at the end, the basketball gods step in. Lucky break here, unlucky break there, the ball gets tipped in the last possession or whatever,” Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said. “I think they all end up in the wash. It drives all of us coaches crazy, you want to kick yourself on the nights where you don’t win the last possession.”

Said Johnson: “It was our guy (Gilbert). Number 14, what’s that line? You have to dance with who brung you. That’s who he is, he wanted the shot again there. He comes from a terrific family. He’s gotten so much better, and that’s the shot we wanted.”

2. Step up, Justin Harris  – Moore mentioned there was a lot of sickness going around the team including Ousmane Drame and himself (at which point the congregated media around him slowly took two steps back). Drame finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds (including the two game-winning free throws), but did look a bit sluggish at times. In stepped senior Justin Harris, who shattered his career high (previous 15) with 23 points and added seven rebounds. He even hit his first career three-pointer in 18 tries, and not one of those fluke banked in ones, a legit swish with the shot clock ticking down.

Moore compared Harris to former UConn player Hilton Armstrong as someone who had to wait in the shadows for three seasons behind very good players, but really shined when called on his senior season.

“It’s awesome to follow in the footsteps of guys like Ike Azotam and Ousmane, obviously,” Harris said. “To finally get the opportunity to show what I can do on the court is a great feeling to have games like this and wins like this.”

3. Where art fifth in the MAAC? – It looks like Iona will be the top seed in the MAAC Tournament, although Rider is only two games back. The key cutoff will be fifth, as the top five teams will not have to play the first Thursday and go directly to Saturday (collecting $200 would be an NCAA violation, however). At the end of Friday’s play, Quinnipiac was in sole possession of fifth at 8-7 in the MAAC, but has a very difficult schedule remaining, which includes Iona (Sunday, weather permitting), Rider, and Manhattan, as well as two of the three teams directly behind them: Siena and Canisius. So for now, Moore will just worry about Iona and getting healthy, thank you.

“We’ve talked about it, but we have bigger issues than the fifth spot right now,” Moore said. “This is a great win because this Fairfield team is fighting. And to go on the road in February is a great win. But, I thought we could have been better ourselves. Our body language, our demeanor, our team toughness could have been a little bit better tonight.”

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