Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bobcats' Big Three Combines For 71 As Quinnipiac Sweeps Manhattan

Zaid Hearst was one of three Bobcats with 20-plus points, as his 25 led Quinnipiac past Manhattan in overtime. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

Two days removed from a humbling loss to reigning conference champion Iona, not to mention playing their second straight game without one of their best players, the script for Quinnipiac was probably not designed to include a win over Manhattan.

However, as New York Yankees radio play-by-play voice John Sterling would say if he called games on the hardwood rather than the diamond, "you can't predict college basketball."

After coughing up a 10-point lead in the final 5:33 of regulation, Quinnipiac (12-7, 7-3 MAAC) needed overtime to pull out a road win, but went on an 11-3 run through most of the extra session to prevail at Draddy Gym by the final of 90-86, giving the Bobcats a regular season sweep of the preseason conference favorite Jaspers, who fell to 14-5 on the year and 7-3 in conference play just 17 days after falling to Quinnipiac on the road.

"We just wanted to be tougher and more relentless than them," senior forward Ike Azotam said moments after posting 21 points and 12 rebounds on a day where Quinnipiac outrebounded Manhattan 50-39 despite having Ousmane Drame inactive again due to a sprained knee, "and it worked to our advantage."

Zaid Hearst also recorded a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Umar Shannon added 25 of his own to give the Bobcats three 20-point scorers in a single game for the first time in twelve years. With the victory, Quinnipiac remains one game back of the first-place tie between Iona and Canisius, the latter of whom heads to the TD Bank Sports Center Thursday evening for a crucial battle atop the MAAC standings.

Through most of the first half, Manhattan dictated the tempo and held a slight advantage, but lost the lead on Hearst's layup with 7:45 left before the intermission. The Jaspers would later come back to tie it at 19, but an 11-4 Quinnipiac run gave the Bobcats control of the game as they headed to the locker room with a 35-29 cushion.

The two teams traded baskets for most of the second half, but it was Hearst who was the catalyst again, as the junior swingman started an 11-3 run that put Quinnipiac ahead 70-60 with 5:33 to go in regulation. However, a 13-0 Manhattan run turned the game back into the hands of the Jaspers with 2:55 remaining. From there, Azotam and Shannon scored four unanswered points to regain the lead prior to a Michael Alvarado layup that made it 75-74 in favor of Manhattan with 1:21 left.

Emmy Andujar's layup with 49 seconds on the clock following a missed Azotam free throw gave the Jaspers a 77-75 lead, but Shannon knocked down two free throws to tie the score. Manhattan had two chances to win in regulation, with Alvarado's missed three-pointer leading to a scramble for a loose ball won by Manhattan, whose inbounds pass was intercepted by Azotam as the buzzer sounded.

Manhattan seized control of the opening tip in overtime and looked to score the first points of the extra session when driving to the basket. However, two missed layups and a Shaq Shannon block thwarted those plans, and Evan Conti's basket 31 seconds into the overtime period was all Quinnipiac would need on their way to dominating the final five minutes behind the trio of Hearst, Shannon and Azotam, who scored 71 of the Bobcats' 90 points. Four players had double-figure scoring days for Manhattan, led by 15 points each from Michael Alvarado and Rhamel Brown, who scored his 1,000th career point in a losing effort for the Jaspers, who must now regroup heading into a pivotal matchup against Iona Friday night after a hard-fought battle against a team that is no longer sneaking up on its competition.

"The emotional impact of not having Ousmane and only having a one-day prep for these guys, that was huge," Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said after picking up one of Quinnipiac's biggest wins in their first season as a MAAC member. "Other than postseason, this one is a really big win."

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