The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team pulled off an upset Thursday, beating No. 4 St. Francis (N.Y.) 80-72 in the Northeast Conference quarterfinals in Brooklyn.
James Johnson broke the program Division I scoring record and Ike Azotam picked up his 14th double-double of the season for fifth-seeded Quinnipiac, who will now play at the No. 1 seed LIU-Brooklyn Sunday at 6 p.m.
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Coming into the game, Quinnipiac was 12-3 when leading at the half, and tonight, headed into the break up 41-31, thanks to a 20-3 run during the first half.
But St. Francis (15-15, 12-6) came out of the locker room motivated to not let their season end on their own court.
With 11:46 remaining in the game, senior Terrier Stefan Perucinic drained a 3-pointer to make it a 49-48 game, and cap off a 18-7 run to start the half.
With point guard Dave Johnson already on the bench after picking up his fourth foul of the game, freshman Evan Conti checked in for Zaid Hearst.
With Conti running the point, Quinnipiac (18-12, 10-8) went on a 4-0 run to extend its lead to five. In its next possession, Conti found himself open behind the arc and pulled the trigger, to extend the lead to eight. Following a Terrier turnover, Conti pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back in to rebuild the lead to 10, 58-48, with 7:55 remaining.
The Terriers would cut the lead to four with 5:52 to go in the half off of a Brent Jones foul shot, but that’s as close as they would get as the Bobcats would hold on to win 80-72.
James, a senior guard, finished the game with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists. With his first basket of the second half, and 12th point of the game, Johnson broke Rob Monroe’s ’05 all-time D-1 program scoring record.
“I didn’t know how many points I had to break the record until one of my teammates told me,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it, I was really just thinking about getting the win. I didn’t want this to be my last game, or Kevin Tarca’s last game. So I wanted to come out and play defense and leave everything on the court. The ‘W’ was the focus.”
Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore knows how important Johnson is to the team and the program.
“Every reward and every accolade he’s going to get this year, is so deserving because he’s the most into it kid we’ve ever had,” he said
Moore also mentioned that he cannot recall a time that Johnson missed a practice, which he said must be more than 500 practices in his four years.
Freshman Zaid Hearst also stepped up with a big game and led the Bobcats in the first half with 11 points after hitting his first three 3-point attempts.
Quinnipiac got swept by St. Francis during the regular season and turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 20 times in its 64-56 loss on Feb. 16.
After that game, Moore mentioned that the team had a rare bad practice the day before, in which they were turning the ball over like they did in the game.
“We had great practices this week,” Moore said. “Our Mondays in January and February have been very hard. We’re developing a little rhythm to what we’re trying to do. We value rebounding margin and field goal percentage defense. We’re first in rebound margin and first in field goal percentage defense because how hard these guys work in particular on Mondays but we did have very good practices the last two days. Ball control and turnover reduction were pretty big themes throughout the last two days.”
Quinnipiac held St. Francis to 36.8 percent from the floor tonight and outrebounded them 48-36, including 20-11 on the offensive boards. They also turned the ball over 11 times compared to last meeting’s 20.
In the last matchup between the two squads, Terrier freshman Jalen Cannon dominated down low, picking up a double-double with 13 points and 19 rebounds against the No. 2 rebounding team in the nation. Tonight, Cannon finished with four points and 11 rebounds.
He was matched up with Azotam, who finished the game with 15 points and 12 rebounds to go along with four blocks.
“I definitely had that (last game) in mind going into the game. We were talking about him all week going into practice,” Azotam said. “I knew I had to play harder and smarter, not let my emotions take over and know that I had an individual matchup I had to win tonight.”