On the afternoon of New Years Eve, a much anticipated college basketball game was taking place in the state of Connecticut. The St. John's Red Storm were entering a sold out XL Center to take on the #9 ranked UConn Huskies. It was a Big East battle that shouldn't be missed.
Meanwhile, some 30 miles south down Interstate 91, I purchased a $5 ticket to enter the TD Banknorth Sports Center on the campus of Quinnipiac University. There, I would be satisfying my Northeast Conference fix to watch a fairly insignificant non-conference matchup between the Boston University (BU) Terriers and the Quinnipiac Bobcats. And I couldn’t be happier. Here I could finally catch up on some live mid-major college basketball and study Quinnipiac’s ferocious rebounding attack, which was second in the nation in both total rebounds per game (44.8) and rebounding margin (12.3). I wanted to get a glimpse of 6-foot-7 super sophomore Ike Izotam, who despite his smallish stature for a power forward, impressively led the NEC with 11.2 rebounds per game.
Both teams were heading in opposite directions leading up to the contest. Quinnipiac, after falling to my Sacred Heart Pioneers on December 1st, had won 5 of their last 6. On the other hand, BU were losers of 5 straight, albeit against some very respectable competition in Harvard, La Salle, Villanova, and St. Joseph’s. Nevertheless, I was expecting a one-sided affair.
The story certainly didn’t play out that way early on. Anchored by seniors Darryl Partin (2nd in America East scoring with 20.2 points per game) and Matt Griffin, BU came out firing to open up an early lead. Quinnipiac tried to answer, but as been the case most of the season, there appeared to be a lid on the Bobcat’s basket. Quinnipiac struggled mightily in the half court set, shooting 31% from the field. What was most surprising though was Quinnipiac’s failure to dominate the glass, which was amplified when 6’9’’ freshman Ousmane Drame picked up his second foul with 10 minutes remaining in the first half. With Drame’s departure and Izotam’s ineffectiveness, the energized Terriers slowly drained the life out the TD Banknorth crowd. When the sharp-shooting Griffin drew an offensive foul and then quickly drained a 3 pointer late in the first half, the shocked crowd saw their Bobcats trail at the half, 32-19.
I’m not sure what Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said to his team at halftime, but whatever was shouted, it worked. Within the first 4 minutes of the second half, Quinnipiac cut their double digit deficit to 4 by hitting three straight from beyond the arch. Suddenly, the crowd woke up. The Bobcats began their patented “crash the glass” attack. Drame did his best Emeka Okafor impersonation by taking control of the paint and rejecting or altering every BU shot attempt within his vicinity. James Johnson, who scored 16 points while playing all 40 minutes, made life very difficult for Partin in the 2nd half. Now it was BU's turn to struggle offensively, no matter how hard first-year BU coach Joe Jones emphatically tried to rally the troops. The Quinnipiac rebounding and defensive tenacity was back. And Tom Moore was impressed.
“I was really proud of our guys resolve in the second half, and our ability to shake off a really bad offensive night from pretty much our team and every player and commit totally to defending and to going to the offensive boards in the second half. BU has played an incredibly challenging schedule, but I don’t think there were many halves were they’ve shot 26% from the floor.”
Once Quinnipiac’s brand of hard-nosed basketball took shape, it was only a matter of time before they finished off the Terriers. Everyone in the arena knew it. And finally, a Nate Graus three from the corner and two free throws from Johnson gave Quinnipiac their first lead of the game, 43-42, with 5:59 remaining. It was a lead they would not relinquish, despite the overall ugly offensive performance (effective field goal percentage of 37%, 0.88 points per possession). In the end, through the offensive muck, it was Tom Moore praising his team for the hard-fought victory.
“I thought our will on the offensive glass in particular, Ousmane Drame, Zaid Hearst, Garvey Young even, at keeping balls alive and continuing to go when nothing was really happening for us offensively was really good for our team’s confidence going forward.”
It was a Northeast Conference/America East matchup that could never have matched the talent level of the Big East battle in Hartford. But you know what? I’ll watch the BU/Quinnipiac game over St. John’s/UConn game any day of the week.
After all - I do it, for the love of the (mid-major) game.