Niagara (7-25) vs. Quinnipiac (19-10)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 8, 9 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: MassMutual Center (7,552) -- Springfield, Massachusetts. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Niagara 5-9, Quinnipiac 10-3. Away Record: Niagara 1-14, Quinnipiac 8-7. Neutral Record: Niagara 1-2, Quinnipiac 1-0. Conference Record: Niagara 3-17, Quinnipiac 14-6. Series Record: Quinnipiac leads, 4-0.
GAME NOTES: The Bobcats of Quinnipiac get their first taste of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament action, as they go up against the Niagara Purple Eagles in the quarterfinals of the 33rd annual event at the MassMutual Center on Saturday evening.
Coming over from the Northeast Conference, the Bobcats are in their first year in the MAAC and did quite well for themselves as the finished in third place in the standings with a record of 14-6, trailing only Manhattan and Iona.
The Bobcats, the third seed in this event, won seven straight games to begin the month of February, but then the squad suffered a couple of late defeats partly due to the fact that the roster looks more like a MASH unit at the moment. Since the fourth week of December, the program has lost a total of five players due to injury and personal reasons, the latest being one of the more influential performers in Umar Shannon, who just had knee surgery.
As for the Purple Eagles, owners of two MAAC Tournament titles and a record of 23-22 in the event overall, they are the 11th seed this time around. Despite beating MAAC foes a total of just three times during the regular season, Niagara managed to take down the Marist Red Foxes in the first round of the tourney on Thursday night by a score of 78-76.
The Bobcats have won all four of the previous meetings with Niagara, although the team did need some late heroics in the final moments of the 90-88 final at the Gallagher Center back on Feb. 22.
The winner of this clash will be taking on the survivor of the Saint Peter's/Manhattan battle in the semifinals for the right to take part in the championship round on Monday night.
The Purple Eagles led by as many as 24 points in the second half against the sixth-seeded Red Foxes a couple nights back, but had to hang on for dear life down the stretch in order to secure the upset. Producing one of the highest- scoring efforts in school history, Antoine Mason stepped up and knocked down 13-of-19 shots from the field and 12-of-18 at the free-throw line as he finished with 38 points in 40 minutes of action. Marcus Ware registered a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, followed by Marvin Jordan who tallied 11 points, but also turned the ball over six times.
Listed as the second-leading scorer in the nation at 25.6 ppg, Mason saw his average against MAAC foes dip to just 22.8 ppg during 20 regular-season outings.
Umar Shannon (14.3 ppg) may have been just a 34.6 percent shooter from the floor, but was actually better behind the 3-point line at 36.1 percent, but he was often the one directing the offense for one of the more athletic teams in the conference. While there are not too many players out there averaging a double-double these days, Quinnipiac has the luxury of owning a pair of such performers in Ike Azotam (16.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg) and Ousmane Drame (13.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg), with the duo also combining to block 93 shots as well.
Because of the efforts of Azotam, Drame and Zaid Hearst (15.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg), each of whom made an All-MAAC team this season, the Bobcats led the nation in rebounding margin with a +12.3 rpg as of Sunday. Unfortunately, as great as the Bobcats have been on the glass (46.0 ppg), it is their scoring defense (76.3 ppg) that continues to give them problems.
The fact that Niagara nearly let a huge advantage slip away on Thursday is an indication that, while Mason might be able to score at-will, the defense for the Purple Aces is simply not up to the challenge and that's something the Bobcats will certainly exploit.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Quinnipiac 82, Niagara 71
03/08 11:56:17 ET