Quinnipiac 73, Fairfield 71: Bobcats Battle Back

A New England team staged an improbable second half comeback thanks in part to questionable clock management by its opponent. No, this is not a Super Bowl summary.

Peter Kiss played the hero Monday night, knocking down the game-winning shot with 1.9 seconds left.

In the first meeting of the season between the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s two Connecticut squads, Quinnipiac stormed back to erase a double-digit second half deficit and stun Fairfield 73-71 Monday night at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

Fairfield outshot the Bobcats 8-0 from beyond the arc in the first half and took a 42-32 advantage into the break. After the intermission the Stags pushed their lead to 14, their largest of the night, on consecutive baskets from Amadou Sidibe and Tyler Nelson.

Following Jonathan Kasibabu’s dunk with 10:21 remaining, the Stags’ lead stood at 13. But that was the moment Quinnipiac finally woke up.

The Bobcats rattled off a 17-4 run over the next eight minutes to knot the game at 65 with 2:27 remaining on a Chaise Daniels layup. Nelson finally stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws to put the Stags back ahead, but Daniels again answered with a layup.

Peter Kiss then knocked down a free throw with 1:08 remaining to hand Quinnipiac its first lead since the opening 90 seconds. The freshman accounted for the Bobcats’ final six points of the night, including the game-winning jumper from just inside the paint with 1.9 ticks left on the clock.

Nelson managed a good look on a half-court heave at the buzzer, but the prayer went unanswered as the ball bounded off the rim.

After their hot-shooting first half, Fairfield was held to just 1-8 shooting from behind the arc in the second while Quinnipiac knocked down five of 12 from distance. The Stags managed 1.10 points per possession in the opening 20 minutes, but staggered to a 0.78 average in the second half.

Quinnipiac placed four in double figures, led by Kiss who notched his second consecutive double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Daniel Harris and Mikey Dixon backed him up with 14 points apiece, while Daniels added 12 points and nine boards.

Nelson led all scorers with 29 points and shot 50% from the field. Cobb ended the night with 10 points and narrowly missed his first career double-double with nine boards. Sidibe led the squad with 12 boards, and his eighth of the night gave the graduate student 800 for his career. He became the ninth Stag to surpass that mark and has now set a personal best with 219 rebounds this season.

Here are three thoughts from Monday night in Connecticut:

Sydney Johnson chose not to use his last timeout to halt Quinnipiac’s momentum.

Time Management – The Bobcats’ second half comeback was defined as much by the stoic image of Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson on the opposing sideline as it was their own offensive onslaught.

Johnson stood idly by as Quinnipiac broke out on an 11-0 run to knot the game on Daniels’ layup. The rally was kicked off by Bobcat freshman Mikey Dixon’s steal off the hands of Curtis Cobb and ensuing layup with 6:12 remaining.

The dilemma Johnson found himself in was that by that point, he was left with just one timeout. Just two minutes away from a media timeout on the floor, the Stags’ coach allowed play to continue as the Bobcats steadily cut into the lead.

That stoppage and media timeout didn’t come until the 2:12 mark, four minutes after the rally began and 15 seconds after Daniels’ game-tying bucket.

“That’s exactly what it was; I was sitting on the timeout,” Johnson lamented after the game. “That stretch was just really bad, from shot selection and taking care of the ball. I don’t really have a lot of words for it. Credit them for good defense and a lot of energy, but it was just not a good moment for us.”

The Stags would not end up using their final timeout until the waning seconds, to set up Nelson’s last-chance heave.

Daniel Harris’ Resurgence – Kiss played the hero Monday night, but an encouraging sign for the Bobcats going forward is the night senior guard Daniel Harris had. The Florida native has endured a frustrating campaign, seeing his scoring average dip from 10.2 ppg in his first year with the Bobcats last season down to 6.5 this year entering Monday.

Daniel Harris posted his first double-digit game since December.

Harris finally broke out with a 14-point effort against the Stags, knocking down three of six from behind the arc including a key triple in the middle of the Bobcats’ second-half rally. It was the senior’s first double-digit game since posting 13 in a loss to Drexel December 21.

“Basketball’s a game of ups and downs,” Harris said. “You can have a lot of highs, a lot of lows, but you’ve got to work through it.”

Known as a sharp-shooter in his junior campaign, Harris shot 41% from behind the arc last season. Entering Monday night, Harris had gone nine straight games with no more than two 3-pointers and his long-range average had dipped to 30%.

“Danny was frustrated with himself early,” head coach Tom Moore said of the senior. “But once he makes one and makes another one, you can just feel the weight come off his shoulders. He stayed with things really well, really battled for us, and was the voice in the huddles too. He kept us believing, exactly what a senior does.”

A Budding Rivalry – Fairfield was a founding member of the MAAC in 1980, but never had an in-state rival until Quinnipiac joined the league in 2013.

While six of the MAAC’s 11 teams reside in New York State, the current makeup of the league is balanced by five geographic rivalries: Canisius & Niagara in western New York, Marist & Siena in the capital region, Iona and Manhattan in New York City, Monmouth, Rider, & Saint Peter’s in New Jersey’s “Hourglass” rivalry, and Fairfield & Quinnipiac in Connecticut.

The budding rivalry between Fairfield & Quinnipiac has already produced some heated moments.

Monday night marked just the eighth all-time meeting between the Connecticut clubs, who first met in the 2011 Connecticut 6 to open that season. Fairfield won that first meeting 72-60, and it remains the only game in the series to be decided by double digits.

In fact, the average margin of victory in the ensuing seven meetings is just four points. The teams have gone to overtime at least once in each of the past two seasons, with last year’s second meeting decided in double overtime.

“I think so, just because of the proximity,” Johnson said of the rivalry’s potential for growth. “I think they do a really good job, I think we’re certainly holding up our end of the bargain in terms of having a good team. Over the years, you give it more years. It’s already becoming that and it’ll probably only get stronger.”

The squads have yet to match up in the MAAC tournament, an occurrence that could easily bolster the rivalry should it come to fruition.

“Yeah, I’d love for it to really evolve into something pretty special; It’d be great,” Moore said of the rivalry. “Sydney has a terrific team, he’s a terrific coach and they have a great nucleus for next year and beyond. I think we have a chance to have a great nucleus for next year and beyond. If we can get to a point where we’re playing a couple of times in the semifinal or a championship game, then I think it’ll take hold, but right now it’s just starting to flourish.”

If the early returns are any indication, the Connecticut sector of the MAAC has a chance to form one of the most competitive rivalries in the league.

Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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