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Quinnipiac vs. Columbia: What We Learned

The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team won a thriller over Columbia on Monday night thanks to some late-game heroics from surprising places. Now 1-1 on the current five-game road trip, the Bobcats have a chance to grab another win against a weak Hartford squad on Thursday night, which would put the team in good position to make the extended road swing a success.

Before looking ahead to Hartford, here is what we learned from last night’s entertaining victory.

Road Dogs

Life away from Hamden hadn’t been kind to the Bobcats before Monday night’s win. The team was 0-4 away from their home floor, losing by an average of 13 points per game. Heading into New York to face a Columbia team that was 50 games over .500 in home openers, the task seemed anything but easy.

Despite a brilliant performance Columbia’s offense led by Mike Smith, the Bobcats continued to respond with big shots and eventually beat a home team that shot over 55 percent from the floor. Baker Dunleavy’s squad remained composed despite struggling with turnovers in the first half, and eventually settled down to stun the Lions in the final seconds of the game, thanks to their freshman playing like a fifth-year senior.

Over-the-top performance from the underclassmen

The Bobcats inbounded the ball near midcourt with just over 30 seconds remaining on the game clock, with the game tied at 87 and a chance to steal a road win. Of course the inbounds pass came to freshman point guard Rich Kelly, but as he dribbled in place near the halfcourt line, you wondered if he would look for the more experienced senior Chaise Daniels in the paint or kick out to an open shooter as the final seconds ticked off the shot clock.

Instead, Kelly took it himself, driving with a head of steam before finishing with a layup on the right side with four seconds remaining. Baker Dunleavy trusted his freshman to make the right decision after throwing Kelly into the fire since the first game of the season. Kelly showed for the first 39 minutes of the game that he deserved the ball with the game on the line, and Dunleavy’s faith in his freshman paid off.

Kelly drilled a straightaway three with just over a minute left to tie the game at 87 on the Bobcats’ previous possession, giving him his sixth triple of the game and a career-high 18 points. The Connecticut native was lights-out from the floor all night, scoring off screens and finding Daniels at the rim in the second half, keeping the Bobcats within striking distance before Kelly’s driving layup in the closing seconds of the game gave him points 19 and 20, and gave the Bobcats the win. It was easily Kelly’s most promising performance of his young career, and was just the half of Quinnipiac’s freshmen contributions.

Kelly might have owned the second half, but he was in a position to be the hero because of Jacob Rigoni’s performance in the first 20 minutes of the game. The Australian native caught fire in the opening period, finishing the half with 15 points and three triples to lead the Bobcats’ three-point attack. If the freshmen duo continues to gain confidence and shoot at a high percentage, the Bobcats may be in business when conference play begins.

Offensive onslaught

Aside from the early turnovers, everything seemed to go right for the Bobcats offense on Monday night. Sure, they were playing a team giving up 80 points per game (301st in the nation), but that’s what you have to do when playing a weaker defensive team. The Bobcats took advantage by shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc and 50.8 percent from the floor to disguise their own defense that was struggling to get stops. The electric shooting performances from both teams made for a lightning pace that was a joy to watch.

For the Bobcats, sometimes it takes a favorable matchup to spark an offense the rest of the way. With Hartford on deck for Thursday night, who the Bobcats hung a ridiculous 99 points on in last year’s meeting, the Quinnipiac offense might have found a solid launching pad with these two games.

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