For the third straight year, the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team won its Northeast Conference quarterfinal matchup, as the No. 2 seeded Bobcats beat No. 7 Mount St. Mary’s 78-59 at the TD Bank Sports Center.
James Johnson scored 13 of the Bobcats first 23 points in the game and Justin Rutty took care of the rest, scoring 22 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.
The Bobcats now move on to the conference semifinals on Sunday at 2 p.m. The game will be a rematch of last season’s championship game when Quinnipiac hosts No. 3 Robert Morris (17-13).
No. 1 Long Island will host No. 4 Central Connectiut State in the other semifinal.
The Bobcats (22-8) held the Mount (11-21) to 31 percent shooting in the second half and outrebounded them 43-24, including 18-7 on the offensive glass.
“I I thought our defensive energy in the second half was terrific,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “I’m really pleased defensively with pretty much everyone that wore a uniform for us tonight. We were more alive, more physical, and we contested shots better.”
photos by Matt Eisenberg:
Rutty’s 41st career double-double got him past one milestone and close to a second. He now has 1,015 career rebounds and is only the third player in Quinnipiac and NEC history to accomplish this feat.
Rutty needs only eight rebounds to move past Ron Robinson (CCSU ‘00-’04) and into first place on the All-Time NEC rebounding list.
The senior forward now also stands at 1,499 career points.
“It’s fun to see a young guy like him get 22 and 16, get eight offensive rebounds and dominate a conference quarterfinal game,” Moore said. “On a personal level I am very happy that he had a lot of success tonight, because he deserves it.”
Johnson, who scored all 13 of his points in the first 11:51 of the game, said he’s not ready to have to play without Rutty.
He also received some pregame motivation from one of last year’s teammates.
“I love playing with Justin and I want to keep playing with him,” Johnson said. “So I’m going to do whatever I can to keep us playing.
“I also got some advice from James Feldeine before the game. I’m just finishing what he started. I’m playing for something bigger than I am and bigger than everything. I just wanted to keep that in mind and give it everything I got.”
The Mount got out to an early 8-0 lead before Johnson scored Quinnipiac’s first bucket 3:13 into the game. Then, the Bobcats didn’t take their first lead until Rutty converted a layup with 9:10 to go in the first, which put the Bobcats up 21-20.
But Rutty says no one on the team was ready to push the panic button early on in the game.
“It’s the beginning of the game, you don’t look at it like that,” Rutty said. “You can’t panic in situations like that, you just gotta keep fighting.”
Senior forward Shawn Atupem led the Mount with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field. Mount St. Mary’s went 5-for-7 from 3-point distance in the first half, but went 0-for-5 in the second and could only make nine field goals.
“We’re a pretty complete team right now,” Moore said. “I can sort of trust what each kid is going to bring every game.”
Sunday afternoon the Bobcats will face the team that ended their season last year. In last year’s NEC championship game, Robert Morris defeated the Bobcats 52-50 to give the Bobcats their only home loss of the season.
Asked whether they were ready for the rematch against Robert Morris, Rutty and Johnson responded in perfect unison: “yeah….definitely.”