Men’s basketball enters stretch run

Alec Turner

The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team has had its fair share of critics entering its inaugural season in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. In the pre-season coaches poll, the Bobcats were projected to finish seventh in the MAAC, behind teams like Rider, Marist and Fairfield.

Since then, the Bobcats have ignored the critics and proved them wrong. Halfway through their conference schedule, Quinnipiac sits in a four-team tie for first place, ahead of the teams that were polled higher before the season began.

“The coaches have the seventh place thing all over the locker room as a reminder,” forward Ike Azotam said.

The 11-6 Bobcats have gotten red hot in MAAC play, winning five of their last six games, including wins over Manhattan and Iona, which are both tied with Quinnipiac for first place.

One of the main reasons the Bobcats have been so successful is because of the dominant rebounding game. With the help of Azotam and forward Ousmane Drame, Quinnipiac sits at the top of the nation in rebounding margin with a 14.1 differential. The Bobcats are also third in the nation in total rebounds, trailing only Brigham Young University and Morehead State with 47.5 rebounds per game.

“It’s our calling point at this time of the season,” Azotam said about the Bobcats’ success rebounding following a win over Niagara.

Azotam and Drame have been a big factor down low for the Bobcats and have been a force to be reckoned with in the MAAC. Azotam is averaging 17.4 points and 12.9 rebounds per game in conference play, while Drame is averaging 12.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Azotam is also the most recent member to enter the 1,000-point club in Quinnipiac men’s basketball history.

Another player that has been a huge help for the Bobcats’ success is Zaid Hearst. Hearst is averaging 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in conference play. The junior guard believes the Bobcats have to keep their pace if they are to remain successful.

“If we keep boxing out, rebounding and hustling we’ll be fine,” Hearst said.

Saint Francis (Pa.) transfer Umar Shannon has stepped into the program and helped out the squad immensely. The guard is averaging 13.2 points per game, and has been a surge of energy for the Bobcats throughout the season.

Players such as Kasim Chandler, Evan Conti and James Ford have been able to come off the bench and give the team support throughout the entire season.

Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore is very pleased with the great start that the team has had, and is enjoying the way his squad has been playing all year.

“The kids have a great work ethic and character to work with,” Moore said.

The Bobcats have a big week ahead of them. This weekend, they will be traveling to both Manhattan and Iona to face two of the top teams in the MAAC.

Manhattan was upset by Fairfield on Saturday to drop to 6-2 in the conference. Guards George Beamen and Michael Alvarado are two of the top scorers in the MAAC, averaging 20.1 and 14.2 points per game.

Reigning MAAC champions Iona are coming off a home victory against Siena to get in the mix at the top of the standings. Despite their 9-8 record, the Gaels have faced a tough schedule, with games against teams like Kansas, St. Bonaventure and Dayton. Senior guard A.J. English III is leading the high-scoring Gaels with 19.6 points per game. Iona has the highest scoring offense in the conference averaging 83.1 points per game.

“We’re excited for next weekend, going to two new places and facing two great teams,” Moore said.