Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore knows what James Johnson means to the team, and the rest of the Bobcats found that out after their season opener too.
Moore suspended Johnson from the team’s first game of the 2011-12 season for “disciplinary reasons,” according to a release by the Quinnipiac University Departments of Athletics and Recreation before Quinnipiac’s 72-60 loss to Fairfield Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Johnson and teammate Ike Azotam were suspended from the team temporarily after an on-campus incident Sept. 18. Both were reinstated to the team Oct. 6, but only Johnson was suspended because Azotam contested he was misidentified.
Johnson, the team’s leading scorer a year ago, had not missed any of the 96 games in his Bobcat career prior to Friday and set the program record for consecutive games played.
His absence was noticeable, to say the least.
“Our offense is really behind right now,” Moore said. “We’re probably a creative IQ guard away right now. I wish we had one more playmaker, shotmaker with the ball right now, in particular tonight without James Johnson.”
Dave Johnson struggled in 36 minutes for the Bobcats, as he went 2-for-10 shooting and fouled out.
“Statistically I thought Dave struggled,” Moore said. “The whole thing really relied on him tonight … He was dealt a tough hand … He didn’t play great, but he competed great. He’s a work in progress.”
Freshmen Nate Gause and Zaid Hearst both played at least 30 minutes on the floor, as they totaled 19 points, but combined to shoot 6 for 17 from the floor to replace James, who shot close to 40 percent last year.
“Those guys are too young and they’re not ball-savvy enough yet, creative enough yet with the ball to go and get baskets,” Moore said.
Moore had five players come off the bench before the second media timeout of the first half, in large part because of fatigue.
“I tried to play a lot of guys early. I think we got nine or 10 [players] in real early and we got tired real quick,” Moore said. “The young guys with the nervous energy of being in their first game, they were exhausted two trips up the court, so I tried to rotate a lot through quick early.”
And without James, who averaged 33.9 minutes per game last year, the Bobcats struggled to find a rhythm. Early in the first half, the Bobcats went 5 for 19 from the field and found themselves down 27-12.
“It really hampered us a lot in terms of getting easy passes because Bo has scored 1,100 points already in three years and Bo’s the type of kid who can play poorly and get 13 points or something,” Moore said. “If he puts up in the mid 20s, we’re scoring and we’re not down 12 or 14 in the first half.”
Not only did the Bobcats trail the Stags by 15 on multiple occasions, but the team that led the Northeast Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio last season (1.25) turned the ball over 16 times while just recording eight assists.
“We made mental mistakes but it wasn’t from being lazy; it was just from them running some crisp offense, them catching us on a couple of screens,” Moore said.
James was third in the NEC in assist-to-turnover ratio, while Dave was fourth. Dave turned the ball over four times while just recording four assists.
The Bobcats, who averaged almost 16 3-point shots per game last season, were unable to get things going from beyond the arc. The Bobcats were only 2 for 9 from long range Friday night, as Hearst and Dave combined to go 0 for 5.
Sitting on the bench was James, who led the conference in 3-pointers made and attempted last year.
“You just think when [Johnson] is out there, if he gets 15-16 in his sleep, you just sustain yourself a little more,” Moore said. “There’s not as much pressure on Dave every trip and Nate every trip and [Zaid] every trip.”
And it wasn’t just from the statistics. Playing without Garvey Young, who is out indefinitely with a partially torn labrum, according to Moore, the team lacked a sense of leadership.
“Last year we had so much older guys,” said Azotam, who had to lead a group of younger forwards like Ousmane Drame and Justin Harris. “I’m not really in the leadership role yet. I’m learning some qualities, so it was tough in the first half to get everybody going like giving them constructive criticism.”
James could do nothing but sit on the bench and watch his team go out and end the game on a 15-3 Fairfield run after the team had fought back to tie the game at 57. The Bobcats missed eight straight field goals in a five-minute span — six by the guards.
When James returns Tuesday against Yale at home at 7 p.m., it’s going to be up to him to return to form and give the Bobcats exactly what they need: a star player they can rely on.