NEC Roundup: Working Overtime, Bobcats Get First W, Sacred Heart Falls To Army
By Zach Smart
It was around the mid-way mark of the second half when it hit Quinnipiac. Capturing the first victory of the 2007-2008 campaign would entail a little less of DeMario Anderson, and a little more of their backcourt and bench players.
Anderson, a prolific scorer who’s already pegged as a Northeast Conference Player of the Year candidate, was mired in foul trouble. After establishing himself as the go-to-guy throughout the first half, the senior swingman fouled out with a little less than eight minutes remaining in regulation.
Starting four-man Louis Brookings and freshman center Justin Rutty were also swamped in foul trouble, before eventually fouling out.
The Bobcats didn’t flinch. A pair of unlikely sources stepped up and filled Anderson’s Shaq-size sneakers.
Quinnipiac is front-loaded with outside shooters, an aspect so paramount to success in NEC basketball, for a reason.
Three-point sniper Bryan Geffen and sophomore James Feldeine came off the bench to net 19 points apiece, connecting on several momentum-changing shots, and the Bobcats overcame dreadful free throw shooting to gut out a wild 85-79 double-overtime victory against the University of Hartford Sunday night.
Geffen, a 5-foot-10 combo guard, came out of the gates flat, misfiring on his first three shots from downtown. The junior would go lights out in the second half, playing with a savvy that helped catapult the Bobcats to their first victory of the Tom Moore era.
During one crucial juncture, Geffen pulled an ill-advised shot from behind the arc, as the Quinnipiac bench held its breath. But Geffen’s trey splashed through the bottom of the nylon, and the Boston University transfer pointed in the direction of his coach as a bi-partisan crowd of 2,218 at the TD Banknorth Sports Complex suddenly erupted.
Feldeine, an off guard who played sparingly last season, was equally impressive. The Bronx, N.Y.-product garnered his first collegiate double-double, snaring down 10 boards to go with his 19 points. With Quinnipiac trailing by three in the waning seconds of regulation, Feldeine nailed a huge trey from the right corner to lift the game into overtime.
Feldeine and Geffen were a combined 14-for-27 from the floor. Geffen connected on 5-of-10 from three-point territory.
The opportunities were there for the Hawks, who came out firing, but in the end Hartford couldn’t capitalize. They turned the ball over with four ticks remaining in regulation, and Warren McLendon’s 12-footer clanked off the rim to conclude the first overtime.
Sighs of relief from the Quinnipiac bench ricocheted throughout the arena. Despite several off-season boosts, few teams endured a tougher pre-season than the Bobcats. The ‘Cats played without their two senior captains, DeMario and Karl Anderson—both of whom were healing nagging injuries— and were forced to practice with a squad that didn’t bear any resemblance to what Moore expects to see on the floor this season.
Chemistry was also a concern. A callow crew took the court for the first time, with three freshman logging significant minutes throughout.
Sporting spankin’ new jerseys, the Bobcats already had a new look to the 2007-2008 campaign. That new look carried over to the hardwood, where they out-rebounded Hartford by an overwhelming 51-38 margin in two slopfest halves.
Former Bobcat coach Joe DeSantis’ penchant for undersized guards and problems with recruiting big men (though Victor Akinyanju, a generously-listed 6-foot-5 center, emerged as one of the conference’s premier rebounders last year) was a primary reason that rebounding and interior defense served as the Bobcats’ Achilles heal the past few seasons.
Enter Moore, who served under Jim Calhoun at UConn and is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top recruiters (See Allen, Ray or Hamilton, Richard for more details). Moore swooped in and fished out freshman bigs Ed Zajac and Rutty. The pair combined for 24 rebounds in their debut.
Hartford countered this with junior strongman McLendendon, who bulldozed his way to a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds.
And so the Bobcats start the season off with a victory for the first time in recent memory, as a new journey kicks off. Last year, the Bobcats flirted with an upset over then-nationally ranked UConn, but Craig Austrie’s timely three pierced the upset-bid.
Not this time.
The Bobcats showed poise and kept their composure in the two grueling overtime sessions, albeit struggling mightily from the line.
The Bobcats were an abysmal 11-for-26, going 3-for-14 over the final stretch. The Hawks weren’t much better in that angle, hitting a meager 18-for-34 and coughing up crucial ones.
Beyond Feldeine and Geffen, highly-touted freshman Evann Baker scored 16 points. DeMario Anderson chipped in with 16 on 7-of-14 shooting.
Joe Zeglenski paced Hartford with 20 points, and three-point marksman Rich Baker chipped in with 17.
Home Boys: Zajac, the only Bobcat to play on the Connecticut scholastic circuit (Cheshire Academy), scored six points and grabbed 12 boards while tusseling down low. The Hawks’ Brian Glowiak, a 6-foot-3 guard from New Britain, scored five points in 22 minutes but was wrapped up in foul trouble. Clint Kuban, the Hawks’ walk-on from Bethel, Conn., did not play.
Half-Baked: There were plenty of Bakers on Sunday, (Rich Baker, along with Quinnipiac’s Baker brothers, Evann and Jeremy, a JUCO transfer who is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA), but the one that came with the most fanfare wasn’t on the floor. Former NBA All-Star Vin Baker, who had a storied stay at the University of Hartford, was spotted sitting behind the Hawks’ bench. At the end of the game, he retreated to the locker room with the defeated Hawks. Baker, one of the finest players to come out of Connecticut, is still a good friend of Scott Burrell, the former UConn star and NBA player who’s now an assistant coach at Quinnipiac.
E.Baker Named Choice Hotels/NEC Rookie of the Week: Quinnipiac freshman Evann Baker copped his first Rookie of the Week award for the week of Nov. 12. Baker, an instant lynchpin in the starting lineup, scored 16 points, hauled in five boards, and dished out four assists as Quinnipiac stamped an 85-79 2OT win on Hartford.
Army 64, Sacred Heart 49: At Fairfield, Army senior Jarell Brown scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed six rebounds as the Pioneers fell to 0-2 on the young season. Junior forward Kenny Brewer scored 13 off the bench to pace Army, whose lead ballooned to 25 at one point. Ryan Litke scored 10 points to lead the Pioneers.
Penn State 74, St. Francis (PA) 64: At Penn State, West Haven, Conn.-product Geary Claxton led all scorers with 23 points for the Nittany Lions. St. Francis’ Grant Surprenant, a sophomore forward, came off the bench to score 20 points, going 6-for-9 from beyond the arc. Guards Devin Sweetney and Cale Nelson chipped in with 12 apiece for St. Francis, which fell to 0-2 with the loss.
Notre Dame 82, Long Island 50: At Notre Dame, senior forward Rob Kurz had a double-double with 19 points and 10 caroms. Luke Harangody added 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Kellen Allen came off the bench to score 16 points in 24 minutes for the Blackbirds.