The Bobcats staged an exciting come-from-behind victory on Sunday afternoon and will now try to accomplish something no other men’s basketball team has ever done in school history.
Top-seeded Quinnipiac defeated fourth-seeded Long Island University 83-78 in the Northeast Conference Tournament semifinal matchup at the TD Bank Sports Center. With the win, the Bobcats advance to the NEC Championship Game against second-seeded Robert Morris on Wednesday at 7 p.m. with a bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
Photo credit: Andrew Vazzano
“We’ll take it, and we’ll play on Wednesday, and hope to be as tough and resilient as we were the last two games,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said.
In front of a season-high attendance of 2,845, junior forward Justin Rutty recorded his sixth straight double-double by compiling 22 points and 16 rebounds to lead Quinnipiac.
“I was trying the best I can,” Rutty said. “That’s my job, to offensive rebound, and I’m going to do it as best I can. I felt I did it today.”
The NEC Player of the Year grabbed eight rebounds on the offensive glass and also added three blocks on the defensive side to help his team to victory.
“I voted for Justin Rutty as player of the year,” eight-year Long Island head coach Jim Ferry said. “I’ve been in this game for a long time, and I’ve never seen anybody with the ability to offensive rebound like this kid. It’s not like you work on it, he’s born with it. It’s phenomenal.”
Long Island, though, got off to the better start in both halves of the game. The Blackbirds started the game on a 10-0 run before the Bobcats got on the board via a Jeremy Baker free throw. Down 39-32 at halftime, the Blackbirds began the second half on a 9-1 run to take a 43-40 lead with 16:20 to go.
The game featured seven lead changes and five ties due in large part to First-Team All-NEC senior guard Jaytornah Wisseh. Wisseh gave the Blackbirds their final lead of the game with 4:08 left after converting on a pair of free throws to give his team a 60-59 lead. He ended the game with 33 points and 7 assists.
“It was a game of runs,” Wisseh said. “They made the last run and we weren’t able to recover from it. We gave up a couple of big offensive rebounds, and it ended up being three points instead of no points for Quinnipiac. In games like this you can’t give up offensive rebounds, especially to the best offensive rebounding team in the nation.”
The Bobcats separated themselves in the end by converting their free throws. For the game the Bobcats shot 80.6 percent from the line.
Junior transfer Deontay Twyman came off the bench to make the final four free throws to seal the game en route to a career-high 16-point performance.
The Bobcats also got 13 points from senior James Feldeine as well as 10 from junior Jonathan Cruz. Sophomore James Johnson chipped in seven assists.
“We don’t always put it on our shoulders,” said Feldeine, referring to himself and Rutty. “We always tell ourselves that it’s not just going to be the two of us winning the game. Sometimes that does happen, but everybody has off days. Deontay and James (Johnson) are huge for us, and Jeremy Baker as well.”
The Blackbirds outshot the Bobcats 44.9 percent to 44.1 percent from the field, but the Bobcats held the edge in three-point shooting percentage, converting 37.5 percent to 34.8 percent.
Quinnipiac, which leads the nation in rebounding margin, out-rebounded Long Island 40-34 and outscored the Blackbirds 23-15 on second-chance points.
The win was Quinnipiac’s 23rd of the season, setting a new school record. The previous record of 22 victories was held by the 1972-73 and 1979-80 squads.
The Bobcats will play in only their second NEC Championship game on Wednesday night. With a win, the Bobcats will earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The game will be played on their home court, where they are 14-0 this season, and it will be televised on ESPN2.
“It seems like the script we’ve been following a lot lately, it seems like we’re more resilient and more tough than we are good,” Moore said. “It gets us wins, so I’ll take it.”
Photo credit: Andrew Vazzano