Super DeMario leads ‘Cats to victory

Brendan Dowding

Lately the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team just can’t be beaten–no matter where it plays.

In the inaugural game at the new TD Banknorth Sports Center, the Bobcats extended their winning streak to six games with a thrilling 73-71 overtime victory over Long Island University. With the win, the ‘Cats run their record to 8-10 overall and 6-3 in the Northeast Conference. The Blackbirds fall to 7-13 and 3-6 respectively.

“I think it may be the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, basketball wise,” said Quinnipiac head coach Joe DeSantis. “To know about all the time and money that went into building this place by TD Banknorth, the Lenders, John Lahey and Jack McDonald. To reward them with a win in the first game here is just great.”

The Bobcats took a comfortable 10-point lead into halftime at 40-30, but the Blackbirds sliced through the deficit in the opening seven minutes of the second frame. A 3-pointer by Esa Maki-Tulokas knotted the score at 50 at the 13:35 mark.

The two teams traded baskets throughout the rest of the half and a layup by DeMario Anderson tied the game again at 65 with two minutes remaining.

Quinnipiac had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds but a backcourt violation on Adam Gonzalez gave LIU the ball and an opportunity to steal the win. Stingy Bobcat defense kept the Blackbirds from scoring, however, and the first game at the new arena needed extra time to be decided.

As was the case in regulation, both teams seemed to trade baskets in overtime, until a Victor Akinyanju layup put the ‘Cats up for good at 73-71.

Quinnipiac withstood a furious LIU attack as the final seconds ticked away. A flurry of shots clanked around the rim but never fell, and Anderson ripped down a defensive rebound and tumbled to the floor, with both the ball and the victory in hand.

“I felt our defense really won the game,” DeSantis said. “We had one stretch where we gave up a lot of three’s. I thought it was a great team effort on both ends of the floor, but I thought defensively we really stood out.”

Gonzalez paced the Bobcats with 21 points and seven assists and Anderson had 18 points and four rebounds. For LIU, James Williams had a team-high 21 points.

The ‘Cats wrapped up their tenure at Burt Kahn Court with back-to-back wins over Monmouth and St. Francis before making the jump to their new arena. In the first game at their new home, the players fed off the crowd’s energy with an offensive explosion in the first half. The team shot 56.7 percent from the floor in the first stanza.

But it wasn’t just about the numbers in this one. For the players it was a chance to experience a big-time college basketball atmosphere in front of thousands of screaming fans.

“They got us excited in the beginning and they were in it the whole game,” Gonzalez said. “The crowd was pumping us up and we all feed off of that.”

After Gonzalez knocked down the first shot in the arena’s history, an ear-to-ear grin appeared on his face as he ran back down the court.

With the way the Bobcats have been playing recently, the whole team now has a reason to smile.