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Quinnipiac vs. UMass: What we learned

Photo Courtesy: Liz Flynn/Quinnipiac Bobcats Sports Network

By: Ryan Chichester

Playing in its final home game until after Christmas, the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team needed to leave a promising performance in the memories of its fans until they return in a month. A six-game losing streak before hitting the road for the next five could have left Bobcats fans wondering if this was already a lost season.

Instead, the Bobcats showed their potential in a 68-66 win over favored UMass, thanks to a balanced offensive effort and disciplined play on the defensive end. Many of the shortcomings that have hurt the Bobcats during their five-game losing streak were absent on Wednesday night, much to the delight of Baker Dunleavy and company.

Whether slow starts and missed free throws are officially behind the Bobcats remains to be seen. In the meantime, here is what we learned during the Bobcats’ encouraging victory.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

It’s hard to find the silver lining wrapped around five straight losses, but the Bobcats had shown promise during that tough stretch. Furious comebacks, impressive three-point shooting, and offensive outbursts from unexpected places like Cameron Young were all positives that Dunleavy could take away from the losing streak.

The only problem was the Bobcats’ inability to bring it all together in one complete performance. They finally did against UMass.

After slow starts for much of the season, Chaise Daniels scored the first six points of the game for the Bobcats. With the first half flop against Maine on Monday night still fresh in the Bobcats’ minds, their senior leader made sure there would not be a repeat performance.

Daniels was one of four Bobcats to finish in double figures, highlighting the balanced offensive effort. Rich Kelly and Cameron Young hit the team’s final four shots at the foul line to seal the win, temporarily silencing the questions around the team’s free throw struggles. The Bobcats hit 22 of 27 free throws in the game, including seven of their last eight.

On the defensive end, the Bobcats were even more impressive. They held Minutemen leading scorer Luwane Pipkins to just five points on 2-of-13 shooting, and limited UMass to just five free throw attempts. After failing to capitalize on turnovers against Maine on Monday, the Quinnipiac scored 14 points off 11 turnovers in the win against UMass.

“We were as close to 40 minutes as we’ve been all year,” Dunleavy said of the team’s most complete performance so far this season.

“And here’s to you, Mr. Robinson…”

Andrew Robinson continued to be a shooting spark off the bench on Monday night, finishing 3-for-6 from beyond the arc en route to an 11-point performance.

Still, the more promising play may have come from his brother Aaron.

Aaron Robinson finished with eight points while shooting 2-for-3 from downtown, but his biggest contribution came beneath the rim, where he grabbed seven defensive rebounds to prevent the vaunted UMass front court from piling on the second chance points.

“I was really excited about the energy he brought,” Dunleavy said. “You need that off the bench. I had no doubt that when we put him in the game that we’d get great energy, but we’re getting great production as well.”

After seeing limited time in the first few games of the season, Dunleavy will likely look to Robinson for heavier minutes off the bench if he continues to produce. It may be at the cost of Jacob Rigoni’s playing time, or Dunleavy can send both out and ride the hot hand.

You shall not pass!

Quinnipiac held the lead for almost the entire 40 minutes of play, and did a great job keeping UMass at arm’s length. The Bobcats quickly recovered when the Minutemen did grab the lead late in the second half for the first time since they held a 10-8 advantage four minutes into the game.

The Bobcats went on a 9-0 run in the first half that was quickly cut into by C.J. Anderson and the Minutemen, and an Anderson four-point play eventually cut the first half lead to one, but the Bobcats responded with a 9-2 run to build a nine-point lead at the half.

A five-game losing streak can make doubt easy to creep into the minds of players when a lead is slipping away, but the Bobcats had an answer for every challenge.

The Bobcats seemed to hold a four-point lead for the entirety of the second half, never letting the Minutemen get too close. That was UMass grabbed a one-point lead on a dunk by Rashaan Holloway with five minutes left. The Bobcats responded by drawing fouls and hitting four straight free throws to regain a three-point lead, which they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way.

The ability of a young team to hold a narrow lead has to be a welcoming sight for Dunleavy and the coaching staff, especially considering much of the effort happened with Daniels on the bench due to foul trouble. Dunleavy has preached building experience for most of the season, and that experience may now be leading to wins.

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