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Tom Moore preps for crucial home-and-home series
With a look of focus and concentration on his face, Quinnipiac men’s basketball coach Tom Moore looked down at the hardwood floor ahead of him on Lender Court.
Reflecting on the team’s recent five-game Northeast Conference stretch that saw the Bobcats go 4-1 with three road wins, he spoke confidently.
“We feel good right now,” Moore said.
The trip improved the Bobcats’ overall tab to 13-10 and evened their conference record at 6-6, leaving them in sixth place in the NEC.
However, Quinnipiac begins arguably its toughest stretch of the season tonight at 7 p.m. at the TD Bank Sports Center, when it plays the first game of a home-and-home series against Central Connecticut State University. The teams will meet again Sunday at noon at the Detrick Gymnasium in New Britain.
“What you have to do is gameplan specifically for each game, at least that’s what we feel for what we run,” the coach said.
Moore said that he plans to group two different offensive packages for the two games, with about eight or 10 sets for the first contest and possibly as many as 11 for Sunday’s game at CCSU.
Since the 2008-2009 season, the Bobcats are 5-1 vs. the Blue Devils, their only loss coming on the road over three years ago. This will be the first time the two have played a home-and-home in that time period.
“One of the things I’m proudest about since I’ve been here is making [games vs. Central] more of a rivalry,” he said. “Their gym is always loud, and I think there’s a healthy dislike for Quinnipiac, which is great and makes rivalries good.”
With a sweep of the series this week and two losses by Robert Morris, the Bobcats could find themselves in a virtual tie for fourth place in the NEC, leaving Moore excited for the series ahead.
Quinnipiac has the toughest remaining schedule among NEC teams, as its opponents have a combined conference-winning percentage of .653. After the Central series, the Bobcats will face St. Francis (N.Y.), Long Island, Saint Francis (Pa.) and Robert Morris.
Fresh off the 4-1 run, things are finally starting to solidify within the squad, Moore said.
“The biggest thing we’re doing differently the end of January into February is that we’re guarding as a team much better,” Moore said. “We have much more purpose, we’re much more accountable, we’re much more alert off the ball, and our rotations are sharper.”
Along with the consistent scoring output of guard James Johnson and forward Ike Azotam, who average 16.8 and 16.2 points per game respectively, Quinnipiac is beginning to get more production elsewhere. Guard Dave Johnson has scored at least nine points in five of his last eight games, and fellow guard Zaid Hearst has transitioned nicely into the offense in his first season of play for Quinnipiac with clutch shooting. Forward Ousmane Drame tallied seven points per game over his past five, and he leads the team with 57 rebounds in the stretch.
“Ous has played himself into a situation where we have to rely on him, and that’s a tribute to him,” Moore said of the 6-foot-9 forward. “He’s become a defensive presence inside, obviously a rebounding presence on both sides, and can even score.”
Drame stepped into his role after forward Jamee Jackson went down with multiple injuries, including an aggravated Achilles of late. Moore said that he anticipates Jackson to play as much as the injuries will let him, and that he will try to work in more minutes as the schedule progresses. Jackson saw 18 minutes of action against Monmouth last Saturday, contributing eight points and eight boards.
This week, the team takes on a CCSU squad that sports a 7-5 conference record. Forward Ken Horton and guards Robby Ptacek and Kyle Vinales rank in the top five in points per game in the NEC, each averaging more than 17 points a contest.
“They’re a very good team in the sense that three of their guys do 80-90 percent of their scoring, so you can focus much of your effort on them,” Moore said.
Moore also understands that it will come down to how Quinnipiac finds ways to get all of its contributors involved.
“We’re looking for someone on the perimeter to shoot it and score it and handle it a little more consistently so there’s not so much pressure on Dave and James in the backcourt,” he said.
Moore also said he believes guys like guard Garvey Young and forward Nate Gause could be keys, alongside the rest of the bench. Young had 13 points against Fairleigh Dickinson last Thursday, and could prove to be a valuable asset should he be able to be a factor from here on out.
“We’re healthy, the freshmen have gotten through the doldrums, and we’re excited about February and what it has to offer,” Moore said.