The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team has faced many obstacles this season, but overcame the youth factor and offensive struggles by focusing on the most important aspect of the game: defense.
“I am very pleased with our commitment to defense recently. They work very hard and have an unselfish attitude,” head coach Tom Moore said. “They strive to get better everyday in practice and they are very resilient individually.”
The Bobcats, who will be in the Northeast Conference tournament for the seventh straight year, will sit closer to the bottom seed in this year’s tournament. Unlike last year when the Bobcats were the No. 2 seed, the team currently sits in a three-way tie for fifth place heading into games vs. Saint Francis (Pa.) and Robert Morris.
“We’re excited about heading into the NEC tournament. We don’t have as much margin of error as we have had with the past two teams,” Moore said. “They were a little bit older and they had a little bit more perimeter offensive depth, and there was a little bit more margin of error where we could survive an NEC tournament game if a couple things weren’t really working as well or at a higher level.”
Quinnipiac will continue to focus on its strengths as tournament time rolls around. The Bobcats are the second-leading rebounding team in the nation with 43.8 rebounds per game, 16.9 of them on the offensive boards, which leads the country.
“I think this team does well with the rebounding, and how we’ve been defending,” Moore said. “If we can maintain that level and we can play decent offense, I think we can be a very tough team in this tournament.”
Senior James Johnson has been the offensive team leader for the Bobcats, averaging 16.6 points per game.
“He’s done a good job this year with being vocal in huddles and trying to will the team to win and him more than anyone on the team understands the importance of these next couple of weeks,” Moore said.
Besides Johnson, Ike Azotam, who averages nearly 31 minutes per game, is falling into a leadership role. Azotam averages 9.4 rebounds per game and 16.4 points per game.
“He’s had an incredible sophomore year,” Moore said. “When you take a step back and look at his numbers from his freshman to sophomore year, he’s had an incredible leap in production, and it doesn’t surprise me because he is an incredibly talented young guy.”
Forward Jamee Jackson has missed 12 games since Dec. 22 after he injured his foot, and re-aggravated a lower leg injury in mid-January. Moore said the team is planning for Jackson to return for the tournament, but wants to make sure he doesn’t hurt it again.
“That’s the catch-22. We need these next games for seeding and to make sure we stay in the tournament but everyday of rest that (Jackson) gets will help us ensure that he’s healthy for the NEC tournament,” Moore said. “It is literally a day-to-day thing … I do expect him, and he fully expects to be healthy and hopeful to be healthy in all of the NEC tournament games.”
While Azotam and Johnson are the only players averaging double figures for the Bobcats, Moore said other players have also stepped up.
Moore spoke of Garvey Young becoming an offensive threat as well as Ousmane Drame. Drame is used mostly for his height to get rebounds and blocks, but he has shown flashes of becoming a secondary scorer. Guards Dave Johnson and Zaid Hearst also will be looked to step up on the offensive end.
“Depending on the opponent and how we are playing and the style of the game, it could be any of those guys stepping up,” Moore said.
Young was ineligible to play last year after he transferred from the University of Vermont after the 2010 season.
“I think that we have been getting better all year. I’m glad I’m able to get on the court and help the team both offensively and defensively,” said Young, who averages 22.1 minutes and 5.8 points per game.
Young said there are many players on the team who have not experienced the tournament atmosphere and both veterans and rookies will need to be ready to step up.
“My role of the season is to come off the bench and create a spark, to come in and play defense and bring energy and keep everyone composed. And I bring my experience to some of the younger guys on our team and help us stay together during the tough times in the game,” Young said. “Its up to me, Bo, and Kevin Tarca to actually help the young guys come through for us when we need them to.”