Quinnipiac men’s basketball downs Hartford in season opener

Bryan Lipiner

Gone are the days of playing at the deafeningly loud Wellness, Recreation & Athletics center at LIU Brooklyn, and the late-season home matchups against rival Robert Morris.

Enter the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, a new conference and a clean slate.

One thing has stayed consistent year after year for the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team, however; the Connecticut 6 Basketball tournament. And similar to last season, it was a comeback victory over the Hartford Hawks to open Quinnipiac’s season in the ‘W’ column.

In their first game of the season, the Bobcats defeated Hartford by a final score of 82-77. Ike Azotam gathered 20 points on the afternoon, while Zaid Hearst tallied 17 to his credit. Freshmen Kasim Chandler and AJ Sumbry recorded 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Hearst’s free throw shooting proved to be key for Quinnipiac, going 12 for 12 from the line, six of which in the waning minutes.

“There’s not a guy on the team I’d rather have on the court, shooting those free throws down the stretch,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “He’s the hardest working kid in our program. It’s great to have a kid get rewarded by making those shots.”

Last year at the Connecticut 6 in West Harford, Quinnipiac downed Hartford, 65-61, also in come-from-behind fashion after trailing 32-29 at the half. At the end of 20 minutes in the 2013 edition, the Bobcats trailed the Hawks by 11.

“He just said stay with it, do what we do,” Hearst said on Moore’s halftime comments. “We played flat in the beginning. Hartford was controlling the pace of the game.”

Quinnipiac began to mount its comeback early in the second stanza, going on a 30-7 run early in the half. The Bobcats tied Hartford at 47 with 14:47 remaining in regulation, taking the lead seconds later and holding it for the rest of the game. Chandler was critical in the second half, earning nine of his 11 points during the stanza.

“We came out with way more energy in the second half,” Azotam said. “We started making more hustle plays. We got back into the game.”

In the first half, Quinnipiac shot 38.5 percent from the field compared to Hartford’s 54.8, resulting in a 42-31 Hartford lead after 20 minutes. Azotam shined for the Bobcats in the first stanza, knocking down 3-of-5 shots from the field, also hitting 4-of-5 free throws, good for 10 points. Sumbry also recorded his first collegiate points in the half, collecting four.

“Great to get out of here with a win against a team that’s gonna win a lot of games this year,” Moore said.

Quinnipiac takes on Lasalle on Nov. 12, part of ESPN’s College Basketball 24-hour Tipoff Marathon. Tipoff is slated for 9 a.m.