Don’t turn the lights out at the TD Banknorth Sports Center just yet. The men’s basketball team still has business to attend to.
By defeating Robert Morris, 81-75, in the regular season finale Saturday at the new arena, the Bobcats secured home court advantage for the quarterfinals of the Northeast Conference tournament.
With Robert Morris (16-10, 8-9 NEC) leading 65-60 after a 3-pointer by A.J. Jackson at the 9:36 mark in the second half, the Bobcats went on a 17-7 run to take back the lead. The run culminated with a DeMario Anderson layup with 3:15 left to play, giving the ‘Cats a 77-72 lead. From there, stingy defense and made free throws from Adam Gonzalez and Casey Cosgrove locked up the win for Quinnipiac (13-13, 11-6 NEC).
“I told the guys before the game to just forget about Thursday night,” Quinnipiac head coach Joe DeSantis said, referring to the team’s loss to St. Francis (Pa.) “Not to take anything away from St. Francis, but we really stumbled on Thursday. This afternoon we bounced back, refused to fall down and were really able to lift our game and beat a good Robert Morris team.”
Anderson continued his outstanding play by scoring a game-high 28 points. Gonzalez chipped in with 15 points and Van Crafton added 10 of his own. Cosgrove also dished out nine helpers in the victory.
The Bobcats, who will either be a No. 2 or 3 seed in the conference tournament, now get to host a postseason game for the first time since Feb. 28, 1993, when they welcomed Stonehill College in the quarterfinals of the D-II Northeast-10 Conference tournament. The ‘Cats went on to win that contest, 86-75, and are excited about the opportunity to host a playoff game in the new building.
“I think the environment is going to be pretty good,” Gonzalez said, looking ahead to the first round of the NEC tournament. “I think this is good for the school. It’s been a few years now since we’ve actually had a [playoff] home game. Hopefully, people who haven’t been to see us will come check us out. It should be a nice crowd.”
On Saturday, however, it appeared the ‘Cats would be fighting an uphill battle against Robert Morris from the opening tip. The Colonials jumped out to an early 8-2 lead thanks to poor Quinnipiac shooting. But the Bobcats bounced back and finished the first half on a torrid pace, converting 52 percent of their field goals and taking a 44-42 lead into the break. The hot shooting continued after the intermission as the team hit 12 of 25 shots in the second frame.
It may have been defense that helped the Bobcats most in the win though. Pressure on Colonial point guard Derek Coleman limited him to just 13 points and, on several occasions, Coleman couldn’t get his team into an offensive rhythm. One particular defensive gem was made by senior captain Dale Meinbresse. After a Cosgrove turnover, two Colonial players streaked toward the basket with only Meinbresse left to beat. The senior was able to block the first shot attempt then swat the ball up court where Anderson retrieved it.
At the time, the play seemed to be a small one in the overall scheme of the game. To DeSantis, it was just another way Meinbresse contributes to helping the team win.
“Dale is struggling from the field right now as a shooter,” DeSantis said. “So why does Dale play? He plays because he does the little things. When you have a second half [of a season] as we’ve had, you don’t do that with only one or two guys.”
Prior to the game, the team honored its five seniors. Thanks to the team’s resurgence in the latter part of the season, however, the five will get to play at home at least one more time. The Bobcats open up the NEC tournament at the TD Banknorth Sports Center tomorrow at 7 p.m.