- Anson Dorrance, coach of 22-time national champion North Carolina women's soccer team
HAMDEN, Conn. - We know about the infamous eye test
, but I call it the "biddy basketball test". Sometimes it's simple to tell who will be the favorite in a youth game just be watching the warm-up. Chances are the team that has the pair of 5-foot-9 eleven-year-olds is probably going to be tough to stop against a squad that has no one taller than 5-2.
There seemed to be no reason why Quinnipiac wouldn't dominate poor St. Francis Brooklyn Thursday night in the NEC opener for both teams. The Terriers had 6-foot-6 sophomore Jalen Cannon, but he was their only legitimate post threat against a squad that had Ike Azotam, Jamee Jackson, Ousmane Drame, and Justin Harris, all 6-foot-7 or bigger, and all capable of putting up double-digit rebounds at any time.
Four minutes into the game, Quinnipiac 's Zaid Hearst drove to the basket and missed, but got his own rebound. He put it back up. No good. But Evan Conti grabbed it. Missed. Got it back. Couldn't get it to go. Jamee Jackson claimed it, and was finally able to dunk the ball as St. Francis generally looked on helplessly.
It was 9-0, and I heard the famous comment uttered at biddy basketball contests throughout the country, "This doesn't even look fair. They're just too small."
After Harris was fouled on a - you guessed it - offensive rebound and made a free throw, Quinnipiac led 22-8 with 6:59 left in the first half, well on its way to a conference victory after a bafflingly inconsistent non-conference slate for the most physically dominant team in the NEC.
Somehow, though, the Terriers climbed back into the game. With all due credit to St. Francis and coach Glenn Braica, who are among my favorites in Mid-majority land, it didn't seem to be their doing, at least from a percentage standpoint.
(Speaking of Braica and youth basketball, it was comical to listen to Braica scream "Rebound!" at the top of his lungs every time a shot go up, as if that would magically help his team do a better job of fighting their size disadvantage.)
The biggest percentage was at the free throw line
, where Quinnipiac was 4-of-15 in the first half as its lead shrunk to 28-25 by the intermission.
waning, the Bobcats had six offensive rebounds and three turnovers in the second half before they scored. Which is pretty tough to do when you think about it. But by then, the SFC trip of Travis Nichols, Cannon, and point guard Brent Jones had pushed the visitors to a five-point lead. Nichols' putback gave the Terriers their biggest lead, 50-42, midway through the second half, as murmurs went through the disappointed crowd.
Pride kicked in and Quinnipiac ruled the next few minutes, overcoming a Kevin Douglas banked in superhoop to finally grab the lead when Dave Johnson's jumper put them up 59-57 with 1:59 left. But it was Jones and Cannon, both sophomores, who would be the difference in a conference game on the road. Jones tied it and Cannon gave the Terriers a temporary lead, before Ike Azotam tied it again. Azotam, a preseason all-conference pick, had only four points (on just three shots) and seven rebounds in 13 minutes.
The final sequence pretty much summed up Quinnipiac's existence this season. With a chance to win, the Terriers had two shots blocked, the second falling into the arms of Conti, who looked to have a chance to break for the winning bucket, only to have Jones step in front of his outlet pass. Like a defensive back who jumped an "out" route, there was nothing between Jones and the basket and he laid it in for the go-ahead basket with 9.1 seconds left.
Cannon had a huge block at the other end, and that was that. A fifth home loss in six games for Quinnipiac, a team that nearly Iona and Albany away from home, and nearly did the same with UConn, falling in double overtime.
The numbers were staggering, but not altogether unfamiliar to the Bobcats. They won the rebounding battle 56-35 with 21 of them coming on the offensive end. But they were just 11-of-26 from the foul line and turned the ball over 18 times compared to SFC's eight.
The team that appeared to have an unfair physical advantage, yet couldn't make it work. There's probably a lesson there somewhere.
I heard disgruntled fans talk about "no heart" and off-the-court problems on the way out, but it can't be that simple, can it?
A clearly frustrated Bill Mecca, friend of TMM, was trying to contain himself on the postgame radio show, but had trouble.
"The thing is just because you can get the fish to take the bait doesn't make you a great fisherman," Mecca said. "You have to get the fish into the boat, and right now these players can't get the fish into the boat. Maybe it's time for some new players to get more minutes that can give them at least a little bit of offense."
There are 17 regular season games remaining, which is obviously plenty of time for Quinnipiac to turn the ship around, starting with a home game against hobbled Long Island on Saturday afternoon.
But for now, the dilemma - which we've seen before - is how a team with potential can't seem to put it together.
Which is probably a good thing for us at TMM. Because if every team that was bigger and supposed to be better prevailed, we wouldn't have much to talk about come March, would we?