After a big 73-69 win Saturday afternoon against Robert Morris, the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team looks toward the Northeast Conference tournament with high hopes.
As a secured fifth seed, the Bobcats will travel to face off against fourth-seeded St. Francis (N.Y.) Thursday night in the NEC quarterfinals.
“We just got to keep improving on defense and offense and know that we have a big game coming up Thursday,” said James Johnson, who scored 28 points in Saturday’s game, including 10 within the final three minutes. “We just got to win when it counts.”
For the past three seasons, the Bobcats have been knocked out of the tournament by Robert Morris.
Things are different this year, and they are not expected to make it as far as they have been anticipated to in the past.
The Bobcats will look to Johnson, their leading scorer, to keep the momentum up.
“We know that it’s playoff time and I’ve got to get my guys fired up,” Johnson said. “A lot of them are freshmen and they’ve never played in an NEC playoff game. I just have to lead them with confidence and lead them with energy and just come out relentless.”
The Bobcats struggled early on in the season with home games, but their on-the-road success lifted them through those tough times, and they will continue to fight in away games throughout the tournament.
“I think that we gave a lot of games up early in the season, and a lot of them were at home. I think we got our identity back on defense and toughness playing on the road,” Johnson said. “So I think we’ve been in hostile environments, so I think that the guys are good on the road. We are gonna approach every game like a one-game season and just try to get the win.”
Unlike previous NEC tournaments, the Bobcats are a bottom-seeded team. The last time they traveled for an away quarterfinal game was in 2008 against Monmouth University.
“We won eight of our last 11 now,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “I don’t think there’s a team in this league who has improved as much as us.”
The Bobcats enter the tournament as the underdogs. They were the No. 2 seed last season and the No. 1 seed the year before.
After the struggles and high hopes of winning the tournament for the two previous years, the Bobcats’ youth looks to make a change.
“Life’s different, and we know that as the one or the two seed in a single elimination tournament. If you lose, that’s it. Life’s different when you’re the favorite,” Moore said.
“The one thing I remember about the championship game here against Robert Morris a couple years ago was how much pressure I could feel our guys were under to just get the win.
And sometimes that can stifle you, overwhelm you, and it can make the home team more nervous than the visitor.”
Quinnipiac will focus its goals on defense. When the defense succeeds, the offense feeds off of it.
“We haven’t had a team defending as well and as solidly leading into this week,” Moore said.
Moore highlighted the importance of the team’s growth and improvement as the key to make its run successful in the postseason.
The Bobcats fell to St. Francis twice during the regular season. They suffered a 73-72 loss on the road on Jan. 5 and a home loss on Feb. 16, but Moore said the regular season doesn’t matter come playoff time.
“Wherever we go… we’re going to go down there as a team committed to defending and committed to rebounding,” Moore said. “We are going to try and just keep improving.”