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Friday, March 8, 2013

Quinnipiac season wrapup: Bobcats headed to MAAC next year

By Bill Cloutier


bcloutier@nhregister.com

Twitter @BillCloutier

BROOKLYN -- The sheer drama in Wednesday night’s Northeast Conference quarterfinal game between Quinnipiac and Long Island was right out of a motion picture.

In fact, the suspense grew so greatly that actor/director and basketball junkie Spike Lee left his seat and stood on the baseline directly under the Long Island basket for the game’s final minutes.

Unfortunately for the game Bobcats, they won’t be able to make a curtain call. Quinnipiac’s heart-breaking 91-83 loss in Brooklyn marked the second straight season that the Bobcats were eliminated by LIU in NEC tournament.

It won’t happen again. That’s because Quinnipiac is moving to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference next season.

Wednesday’s game turned into a foul-fest and the Bobcats’ free-throw shooting woes reared their ugly heads again. Ousmane Drame, who otherwise was brilliant and is generally one of the best Bobcats at the line, missed six of his eight attempts from the stripe in the second half as Quinnipiac squandered a nine-point lead in the game’s final 10 minutes.

“We were up good but we started fouling and they got back into the game with free throws,” Quinnipiac junior forward Ike Azotam said. “We didn’t execute and we lost our poise. Free throws lost us a couple of games this year and they won us a couple. In the second half it came back to haunt us.

Azotam fouled out of the game with over five minutes remaining. He was one of four Bobcats to foul out.

“It was tough to watch from the bench,” he said. “You never can guess that you’ll lose four starters in a game. I don’t want to say that the (officiating) was one-sided. They played better than us in the second half.

“I kept telling them to keep playing, that we’ve been down before. We started the season 5-11 and 1-3 in the conference. We were in close games all year.”

Moore wraps up his first six seasons at Quinnipiac with a 70-39 mark in NEC play. He is a bit disappointed about the past season but once his Bobcats proved their mettle down the stretch.

“I really wish we had won the Central (Connecticut State) game in particular,” Moore said. “That might have given us a better seed and we wouldn’t have had to start our journey at Long Island. Arguably this is as hard a place to win because of the belief they have. They’re going to be a tough out.

“I think our record should have been better than 15-16. I’m really proud of the hole we dug ourselves out of. We’ve prided ourselves, the last five years, of having strong Februarys with teams that continued to improve. This team carried the torch.

“I’m really excited about the individual improvements from a lot of our young guys. We had a lot of guys stuck with no confidence but we grew a great deal in January and February. They rattled off a great winning streak.”

Azotam, Quinnipiac’s rugged forward who led the team in scoring and rebounding and was named to the NEC second team, will be back as will Drame, who Moore called the best big man in the conference as the season progressed.

“Drame had a great end to his sophomore year and he’s terrifically talented,” Moore said. “The drive to win is coming out for him. I’m very excited about what he can do for us the next two years.”

The Bobcats will lose unflappable guard Dave Johnson who has been a court leader for the past few seasons as well as versatile forward Jamee Jackson, and oft-injured swingman Garvey Young. But guards Evan Conti and Zaid Hearst will return and both proved themselves in Quinnipiac’s biggest games.

“It’s hard to say because we lost in the first round but I was proud of how we played in the last month,” Azotam said. ”I’m looking forward to next year. We bring back most of our team and I’m confident about next year.”

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