Three Thoughts: Quinnipiac 69, NC Central 59

HAMDEN, Conn. – New season, same old Quinnipiac.

The Bobcats crashed the offensive glass and attempted to pound North Carolina Central into submission. But, oh, that outside shooting, 309th nationally a year ago.

Wait, that’s a nine next to Quinnipiac’s made three-pointer number on the boxscore? Hmmm.

In fact, while the season is just four games old, the Bobcats are shooting a robust 38.5% from behind the arc (9-22 Tuesday) and a big reason why they’ve now won two straight after dropping two to start the season.

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Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore joked about bringing up last season, but he is (and has been) well aware that no matter how many offensive rebounds his team gets (and the Bobcats finished first in the nation in offensive rebounding rate for the third time in four seasons in 2014-15 and hasn’t finished lower than fourth – of 351 teams – since Moore’s first season in Hamden, 2007-08), if they can’t put the ball in the basket at some point, it will be just about impossible to win the MAAC title.

“It’s no secret that one of the stories of our season last year was we were at 29 percent three-point shooting in late February,” Moore said. “I think we finished at 30 percent (30.7 to be exact, 309th nationally). We had so many games when we were 2-for-12, 1-for-15, 3-for-18 and lose by one or two. I do think we tried to recruit it. We’re trying to improve it by working hard at it, too. Gio (McLean) can shoot it, James Ford is better, Dmitri (Floras) is better, Alain Chigha is better even though it hasn’t shown up in the boxscore yet. Ayron Hutton is struggling right now, but he’ll play his way out of it. We did put an emphasis on three-point shooting in our recruiting, and we’re starting to see the benefits of that. It just stretches the defense a little more and give our inside guys a little more freedom around the rim. We’ve only had one bad game shooting from three so far.”

Without Ousmane Drame and Ike Azotam (and Zaid Hearst), the Bobcats were picked just seventh in the preseason MAAC poll, and coming off a 15-15 season (9-11 MAAC) that ended with a loss to Marist (in which they shot 7-31 from behind the arc) on the first day of the MAAC Tournament, there’s a little pressure on Moore to produce this season, and their salvation may not come from within the three-point arc, but without.

What else did we learn on Tuesday night at the TD Bank Center, where the Quinnipiac women knocked off Temple in the opener of the doubleheader?

  1. Quinnipiac succeeded largely without Gio McLean

McLean struggled to get going and actually found himself on the bench a couple of times due to silly turnovers. He still showed some of his potential hitting a couple of massive three-pointers when his team needed them most (see above), but he finished just 4-13 from the field and five turnovers against two assists.

Still, Quinnipiac beat a decent NC Central squad despite that performance, and that’s a big positive for Moore and the Bobcats.

“Gio shot the ball real well from three, even some tough ones at the end of the shot clock, but he had his first tough floor game,” Moore said. “He’s got a lot of pressure and expectations on him, hype surrounding him, and I think sometimes we have to keep in perspective that he hadn’t played a game in about a year and a half, and this is only his third game back. I thought he was really too hard on himself tonight.”

2) Daniels is ready to assume his place in the pantheon

Fans of Quinnipiac in the TD Bank Center era can point to players like Justin Rutty before Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame and Chaise Daniels appears to be that guy this season. He’ll get some help from Donovan Smith (six offensive rebounds in 18 minutes Tuesday) and freshman Abdulai Bundu (six rebounds in 18 minutes), but Daniels will have the be the presence inside if Quinnipiac wants to keep its dominance inside. So far, so good, Quinnipiac posted a 45.5% offensive rebound rate Tuesday, and is at 40.7% on the young season, a tick behind the lofty standards of the last few years, but still in the neighborhood.

“There’s a little pressure, but it’s nothing I can’t handle,” Daniels said. “My teammates and my coaches support me to the fullest and I just try to play my best every game.”

Said Moore: “It’s very rare for us at Quinnipiac to need a sophomore post player. But we need him to get 16 and seven like he did tonight. We didn’t need that out of Ousmane and Ike when they were sophomores, but we need him right now. He’s not completely polished yet, but we wants to learn and he wants to get better. He’s speeding up his development because he practices hard and he listens. There’s a lot of things he has to get better at, but he has a lot of ability and a lot of passion.”

3) Game of runs

NC Central went undefeated in MEAC play last season and is 46-2 in conference in the last three seasons in addition to having the nation’s second-longest home winning streak (36). Head coach LeVelle Moton has put together an impressive resume in Durham, and while he badly awaits Siena transfer Patrick Cole to be eligible (second semester), he does not have a bad basketball team.

In fact, the Eagles controlled the early part of the game and the contest with tied 33-33 early in the second half before a 22-2 Quinnipiac run (which featured a couple of big threes) gave them too big a deficit to overcome.

Quinnipiac’s defense was obviously excellent. After scoring five points early, senior Dante Holmes could not get an open look as the Bobcats blocked nine shots (Daniels 4) when NC Central tried to get near the rim. Outside of Holmes, the Eagles are not a great shooting team and that wasn’t going to work well against Quinnipiac.

“I think it was depth to be honest with you,” Moore said. “The wear down effect of how hard we go to the glass I think caught up with them at that point. They had a little foul trouble. But the offensive rebounding, the pounding of sending four guys really wore on them.”

There is still plenty of work to be done, of course. The Bobcats are only shooting 35.5% on two-pointers and are a dreadful 53.2% from the free throw line (Bundu went 0-5 Tuesday and is 1-9 for the season, which was a small blemish on an otherwise tremendous performance). But there is hope, which is the best of things, of course.

Bonus) Weird scheduling

Quinnipiac will open MAAC play next weekend in Buffalo, which qualifies in the “getting it out of the way early” department. But the Bobcats will do it Ivy League-style, playing on Friday night at Niagara and Saturday at Canisius due to scheduling conflicts. Quinnipiac swept the trip two years ago, but went 0-2 last season, so who knows?

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