The men’s basketball team is now tied with Manhattan for third place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with a 9-5 conference record after splitting their previous two games against the Quinnipiac Bobcats and the Canisius Golden Griffins.
In their second season as members of the MAAC, the team is only one conference win away from doubling their conference wins from last season. Furthermore, their 12 overall victories have already surpassed their wins from last season.
The Hawks first travelled to the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, CT for a matchup with the fifth place Bobcats on Thursday, Feb. 5. After a slow start, the blue and white could not quite get back within striking distance, and ultimately fell 72-52. It was MU’s second loss to Quinnipiac this season, and the 20 point difference was the second largest margin of defeat for the Hawks this season.
“We were totally outplayed and outclassed by Quinnipiac today,” said Head Coach King Rice. “Our group is feeling pretty sorry for themselves right now and we have to get that turned around pretty quickly.”
Junior guard Deon Jones was the Hawks’ leading scorer on the night with 12, while sophomore point guard Justin Robinson chipped in with 11 points and dished out nine assists. Freshman guard Austin Tilghman added 11 points of his own.
MU managed to jump out to an early lead behind a layup from senior guard Max DiLeo, but it would be the only lead they had on the night.
Following DiLeo’s bucket, the Bobcats went off on an 11-0 run to take a nine point lead just five minutes into the contest. The Hawks were able to respond with a quick five point spurt that cut the lead to four after sophomore guard Colin Stewart converted a three-point play. With 13 minutes remaining in the first half, it seemed likely the game would end close like the two teams’ previous meeting earlier this year.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, this was not the case as Quinnipiac regained momentum and went on a 19-7 run over the next ten minutes of play to take a 30-14 lead with three minutes left in the first. Even after a three point play from Jones in the half’s final seconds, the Bobcats still went into the locker room with a double digit lead and momentum on their side.
Play was pretty much even through the first several minutes of the second half as the Hawks were unable to significantly cut into the deficit and the Bobcats couldn’t quite pull away.
MU was finally able to get within single digits at the eleven minute mark when senior forward Brice Kofane hit a layup to make the score 45-37. However, the Bobcats responded just seconds later when Evan Conti knocked down a three to push the lead back to double digits. MU never mounted a serious threat from then on, and QU was able to run out the clock and preserve the victory.
The blue and white struggled from the field on the night, shooting only 33 percent from the field, and the three point line played a big role for the Bobcats as they knocked down nine shots from beyond the arc compared to just three makes from the Hawks.
MU looked to bounce back and avoid their third straight loss asthey returned home to welcome Canisius just three days later. Defense was unquestionably the theme of the game as the Hawks were able to hold the Golden Griffins to a season low 40 points and get the win despite scoring their own season low 44 points.
“I am very proud of my kids for their defensive effort,” said Rice. “I am very happy that we were able to get this win and keep growing on both ends of the floor.”
Kofane and Robinson led MU with nine points apiece, and Robinson also added four assists and two steals to lead the team in both categories. It was the first time all season that MU did not have at least one player score in double digits.
The Hawks again got off to a bit of a slow start as they found themselves down five early in the contest, and didn’t connect on their first field goal until four minutes had already passed. However, the Hawks’ tough defense allowed them to keep the bleeding to a minimum. Eventually, MU was within one point with 3:15 remaining in the first half.
DiLeo then gave MU its first lead of the game just a half minute later when he knocked down a three to put his team up by two. After a Canisius bucket tied the game at 15, Kofane converted on a three point play with only twenty seconds remaining thus securing a Hawks’ lead heading into the half.
The Hawks increased their lead to as much as seven in the early portion of the second half when DiLeo again scored to push the score to 25-18 with 16 and a half minutes to go in the game. MU could not maintain the lead, however, and the Golden Griffins managed to tie the game at 25 with 13:48 remaining after a 7-0 run.
The lead changed hands seven times over the next six plus minutes of play. With a one point lead and just over seven minutes to go, the Hawks went on a 7-0 run of their own to build a little bit of cushion, and led 42-34 at the three minute mark. Despite the Hawks’ momentum, Canisius refused to go down easy. With less than 50 seconds in the game, the Golden Griffins sank two straight three’s closing the scoring gap to two.
Canisius had a great opportunity to even the score at 42 with six seconds remaining, but they could not capitalize due to a missed layup. The Griffs were then forced to foul, and Robinson calmly knocked down both of his free throws to give MU the four point victory.
“Give Canisius a lot of credit,” said Rice. “A couple of plays and we get to be the victorious team today.”
Such a hard fought win came at a good time for the Hawks, as they now have five days to rest before they hit the road again to take on Siena this Saturday, Feb. 14. The Saints are currently seventh in the MAAC standings, and it will be the first meeting between the two teams this season. Tip-off is set for 7 pm.
PHOTO COURTESY of Taylor Jackson