Two weeks ago, the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team was in fourth place in the Northeast Conference and in danger of hosting only one playoff game this postseason.
“We’ll fight and claw and scratch for second,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said after his team was defeated by the first-place Long Island Blackbirds on Feb. 5.
In a must-win road game Saturday afternoon, the Bobcats (19-8, 11-5 NEC) took an enormous leap toward second place, beating in-state rival Central Connecticut State University, 68-67, at Detrick Gym in New Britain.
“We had to overcome a brilliant performance by Kenny Horton, foul trouble throughout the game, really good Central Connecticut defense and a hostile crowd,” Moore said. “It was an emotional, hard-fought game.”
Horton, CCSU’s junior forward, scored a career-high 35 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Blue Devils.
Down one point with three seconds left, Horton attempted a 3-pointer to give his team the win at the buzzer but the ball bounced off the back of the rim and the Bobcats walked off the court victorious.
“I had a clear look at the basket, and it just didn’t fall,” Horton said. “We made a lot of mistakes during the game that we shouldn’t have and if we didn’t make those we would have had the upper hand in the game.”
Quinnipiac sophomore guard Dave Johnson led the Bobcats with a career-high 17 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field and 6-for-8 shooting from the free-throw line.
Junior James Johnson, who leads the team in scoring at 16.6 points per game, chipped in 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting. He went 3-for-5 from beyond the three-point line in the second half.
“I don’t think anyone was really good for us,” Moore said. “We had a lot of guys that won’t get on the bus and say ‘Jeez, I played great.’ Dave was probably the most consistent guy we had on the offensive end all night. But we had guys play poorly, and get back in the game. It was some good fight, good spirit on our team today.”
With the win, the Bobcats moved past CCSU (18-9, 11-5) into sole possession of second place. Though both teams have identical 11-5 conference records, Quinnipiac won both head-to-head meetings this season and therefore holds the tie breaker.
The Bobcats have two regular season games remaining. On Thursday they will host Monmouth (9-19, 5-11), and on Saturday they will host Fairleigh Dickinson (4-23, 2-14).
If the Bobcats can hang on to second place, they would potentially host two home games during the playoffs.
The finals matchup would be at Long Island (22-5, 14-2), the regular season champions, assuming they win both of their games.
“With the game we played against them down there that was back and forth until the very end, and the experience you gained from playing in such a hostile environment today, you hope as a coach that the next time you put the ‘blues’ on in a situation like this that you just have a little more belief,” Moore said.
Photo credit: Matt Eisenberg