In the first ever meeting between Canisius and Quinnipiac, the Golden Griffins proved that when a star player is limited, other players have to step up. That was the case Thursday night.
The Golden Griffins veteran-laden squad came through when called upon. Zach Lewis scored 17 points and Chris Perez added 15 as Canisius downed Quinnipiac 86-74 and at the TD Bank Sports Center.
“That’s what happens,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said. “When they concentrate on stopping Billy, they’re going to leave other guys open. It’s a team game, and Billy makes plays off of that too.”
More importantly, with the loss Quinnipiac (12-8, 7-4 MAAC) drops to fourth in the conference. Meanwhile, the Golden Griffins (15-7, 9-2 MAAC) strengthen their stranglehold with the win and remain in first place. The loss snaps Quinnipiac’s five-game home winning streak.
The Bobcats received a huge game from Zaid Hearst, who scored a career-high 33 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 9-of-11 from the foul line. The junior guard also corralled six rebounds and added four assists. Hearst is the first Quinnipiac player to score 30 points since Ike Azotam finished with 32 two years ago against Niagara. The junior guard limited Baron to five points at the half on 2-of-6 shooting. However, despite Hearst’s career night, the Bobcats started out slow.
“I thought we missed some assignments,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “I am just disappointed that if we don’t see the ball go in the basket on a consistent basis for us, that we don’t get a tougher mindset defensively. That was the case tonight.”
The Golden Griffins jumped out to an 8-0 lead early on and never trailed. Canisius, winners of three consecutive games, built an 18-point lead with 8:19 left in the half and led 41-32 at halftime.
“I felt good at halftime,” Moore said. “We were dead in the water but cut an 18-point lead down to nine. I thought we could hold them. I wasn’t surprised we got it to two, but you have to take a step back and understand how good this team is. You cannot just spot a team this good, 18 points and expect to come back.”
Ike Azotam scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Azotam pushed his double-digit scoring streak to 17 straight games. Evan Conti provided a spark off the bench with 11 points, all in the first half and added a career-high eight assists.
The Bobcats would get as close as two points, 48-46, with 13:08 left but could not flip the switch defensively.
“We couldn’t get a stop after that,” Hearst said. “It wasn’t like we ran out of gas, we just couldn’t stop them.
Despite leading the nation in rebounding, rebounding margin and offensive rebounds per game, the Bobcats and Golden Griffins tied 38-38 on the glass.
“That’s not who we are,” Hearst said. “We have to win the rebounding battle.”
Baron, the reigning Lute Olsen National Player of the Week, scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half – with most coming off eight free throws in the final minutes.
Ousmane Drame played for the first time since Jan. 18 against after nursing a knee injury. Drame finished with six points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes.
With Canisius up 48-46, Chris Manhertz hit a layup and Baron followed with a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 53-46. Quinnipiac never got closer than six the rest of the way.
The Bobcats shot just 6-of-27 from beyond the arc for 22 percent. The Golden Griffins, meanwhile, made 8-of-19 threes.
Quinnipiac heads to upstate New York this weekend when it takes on Siena College on Saturday. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.