Championship dreams begin on the road

Dan Baker

The final week of the season showcased the pinnacle moment in Bobcats basketball. DeMario Anderson’s game-winning 3-pointer from half-court, which gave the Bobcats a 76-73 win over in-state rival Central Connecticut, was featured on ESPN’s Sportscenter as the No. 1 play.

“It’s a dream come true, something you always think about,” Anderson said. “It also gave us a lot of great exposure.”

The Bobcats followed the thrilling win by losing their season finale to Wagner 77-68 on Saturday and dropped ri fifth place in the Northeast Conference standings. Quinnipiac will travel to take on fourth place Mount St. Mary’s on Thursday at 7 p.m.

If the Bobcats want to break out their dancing shoes for the ‘Big Dance’ in a few weeks, they’ll have to start their run by winning their first NEC Tournament game on the road.

The Bobcats were picked earlier in the season to finish in fifth place in the NEC Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll. After racing out to an 8-2 start in conference play, the Bobcats finished their conference schedule only 3-5 in their last eight contests. However, now it comes down to one game at a time and anything can happen once a team gets into tournament play.

The dramatics of last Thursday night began when Central Connecticut’s Kyle Horton drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 73-73 with 2.5 seconds left in overtime. On the ensuing inbound, Anderson caught the ball took a few dribbles and launched a shot just in front of the half-court line. The ball went through the basket, nothing but net, and Anderson and the rest of his teammates ran right out of the gym as they had knocked off the Blue Devils 76-73.

Anderson led all scorers with 28 points, while Louis Brookins chipped in with a double-double that included 13 points and 10 rebounds.

The Bobcats had lost eight straight games to their in-state rivals. The win over the Blue Devils guaranteed that the Bobcats would finish no lower than fifth, but they could still finish in fourth and secure at least one home playoff game.

For Anderson, hitting the shot against CCSU was extra special.

“It was my last game against them and I hadn’t beaten them since I left,” he said. “Doing it against them was bigger than the shot itself.”

Next up for Quinnipiac was a road contest with second-place Wagner. With a win or a Mt. St. Mary’s loss, the Bobcats would have sewn up fourth-place. However, neither happened as the Seahawks continued their strong play by taking down the Bobcats 77-68 and the Mountaineers defeated Monmouth 81-67.

In the Wagner contest, Anderson led the Bobcats with 27 points, while Justin Rutty added 11 and Evann Baker scored 10. The Seahawks were led by Mark Porter’s 24 points and 10 assists.

With the Bobcats and Mountaineers set to square-off on Thursday, Quinnipiac will start its road toward the NEC Championship. In their two meetings this season, the home team won both contests.

On Jan. 10 the Bobcats beat Mt. St. Mary’s 70-59. Anderson led the Bobcats with 21 points and four other Quinnipiac players scored in double figures. On Feb. 16 the Mountaineers returned the favor as they claimed a 77-70 win. The Mountaineers received a combined 41 points from guards Jeremy Goode and Chris Vann.

“Our expectations are real high. The goal hasn’t changed, make it to the conference championship,” Anderson said.

Other first-round match-ups include No. 1 Robert Morris hosting the No. 8 Monmouth Hawks. The Hawks were in a four-way tie for eighth place with St. Francis (NY), St. Francis (PA) and Fairleigh Dickinson and were awarded the final berth in the tournament. In a battle of the islands, the #2 Wagner Seahawks will host Long Island University. The last first-round match-up will involve in-state rivals Central Connecticut and Sacred Heart. Last year, these two clubs met in the finals of the NEC tournament with the Blue Devils taking the NCAA Tournament berth.

With a win on Thursday, the Bobcats will play a second road game against one of the top three seeds, depending on the results of the other quarterfinals matchups. The semifinals will be played on Sunday March 9 and the championship game will be on March 12 and will air on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.

The Mountaineers have been powered by Goode and Vann all season long. Vann leads the team with 15.1 pointers per game, while Goode is just behind at 14 points per game. Goode is also the Mountaineers best distributor with 5.6 assists per game and also leads the team with 2.1 steals per game.

The Emmitsburg club is carrying some momentum heading into the tournament as they have won five of their last six games. Their only loss during that period was a 69-66 road loss to first-place Robert Morris.