Bobcats bully Bulldogs in home opener
The home crowd had been teeming all night, waiting for a game changing play, and their patience paid off as Jamee Jackson delivered.
Quinnipiac (1-1) defeated rival Yale (1-1) on Tuesday night, 68-62, as the 2,744 fans on hand were treated to a show at the TD Bank Sports Center.
With the Bobcats locked in a tight battle since the opening tip, midway through the second half Jackson roamed the lane and saw his opportunity. Senior guard James Johnson hoisted up a 3-pointer from the top of the key that bounced off the rim. Jackson skied into the air, grabbed the rebound with two hands, and threw down a monster tip-slam that sent the raucous home crowd into euphoria.
“It felt great,” sophomore forward Ike Azotam said of his teammate. “It was good for Jamee too cause he was in foul trouble for most of the game so that dunk kind of lifted his spirits and it lifted us all up. Playing in front of a crowd like that is always good cause we love the students, the students love us, and playing in front of them makes you want to play even harder.”
Throughout the course of the game, the physicality between both teams was extremely high. The game was dominated at the free throw line. Yale shot 38 free throws while Quinnipiac had 32 attempts, but the Bobcats capitalized down the stretch and were led by the tandem of Johnson and Azotam.
“I felt both teams really laid it all out in terms of the energy they gave and how much passion they played with,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “I knew if we were going to win it was going to be an extremely difficult win and it turned out to be that way.”
Johnson, who made his season debut after missing the first game of his career last Friday against Fairfield due to suspension, came out determined and led his team with 25 points to go along with four rebounds and three assists.
“It felt real good being out there, seeing yellow and just embracing the love from the fans,” Johnson said. “I was practicing all summer just wanting to get back out there. It hurt me a lot against Fairfield knowing I couldn’t do anything. So just being out there with my guys and just being tired with them, running up and down with them, just helped a lot.”
The senior leadership and three-point capability was missed in the Bobcat’s 72-60 loss to Fairfield. Johnson struggled at times, finishing 8 for 20 from the floor, but the team and crowd rallied behind him and his clutch outside shooting.
“It speaks for itself,” Moore said. “I don’t think he played dominant and then you look at the numbers and they were terrific. To my eye it was kind of an average game for him and he still has 25. It just means everything.”
Azotam followed his 17-point, 10-rebound output against Fairfield with another dominant game in the paint, as the young forward compiled 17 points, 18 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. His inside presence helped Quinnipiac finish with 54 team rebounds compared to Yale’s 41.
“We work on it every day so it’s like second nature to us,” Azotam said. “We always have four guys crashing and we really try to be tough on the glass, box out, and get a couple easy fouls off box outs and went to the free throw off of them. That’s our nature, that’s our go-to thing, it’s our strength and we want to utilize it.”
The two rivals battled back and forth throughout the first half as foul trouble started to take its toll on both squads early. Quinnipiac had no answer early on for the Bulldogs’ Reggie Willhite. The senior guard had five of the team’s eight field goals in the first half and finished with 12 points in just 12 minutes due to two early fouls.
The Bobcats struggled from the floor in the first half, shooting just 32.1 percent, but led at the half 32-31 due to the team’s ability to draw 15 fouls on Yale and convert 14 of 18 free throws.
In the second half, the two sides continued to trade baskets early on until the score was tied at 43 and the Bobcats went on an 8-0 run to take their biggest lead of the game up to that point. Johnson hit a 3 from the wing and about a minute later Jackson threw down his monster dunk.
Johnson finished off the run with mid-range jump shot and the Bulldogs would only come to within five points from the lead for the remainder of the game.
Several Bobcats playing in their first game at the TD Bank Sports Center put in strong outings. Alex Jackson (five points, 10 rebounds), Ousmane Drame (seven points, four rebounds) and Nate Gause (four rebounds, four blocks) all chipped in.
Willhite scored 18 points on 50 percent shooting and had seven rebounds for Yale but the rest of the team struggled from the floor, shooting just 19 percent from the floor. The Bobcats held 6-foot-10 senior forward Greg Mangano, who shined against Central Connecticut in the Bulldogs previous game with 23 points and 13 rebounds, in check as he finished with
just five points on 1-for-7 shooting.
The Bobcats hope to continue their winning ways on Saturday against Navy at 2 p.m. at the TD Bank Sports Center.