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Fairfield’s late rally not enough to beat Quinnipiac

Photo Courtesy: Liz Flynn/Quinnipiac Bobcats Sports Network

By: Josh Silverman

EAST GARDEN CITY, NY – The saying “too close for comfort” has been perfectly applied to this year’s Quinnipiac men’s basketball team.

So, why would Saturday be any different?

A day when it beat Fairfield 75-70 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, it seemed like Quinnipiac couldn’t hold down a lead it was comfortable with.

Though the team keeps progressing and improving the number in the win column, the feeling is that this team takes two steps forward and one step back.

“Obviously proud of our team’s effort,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said. “It’s funny when you’re a coach, you emphasize certain things. If you have good kids like we do, you tend to see some differences in those things. You patch one hole up and water comes out of another area.”

It took the Bobcats time to find their rhythm. They took their first lead with 9:31 remaining in the first half and never relinquished it, thought it got mighty close.

Two consecutive steals on inbound passes, both with under a minute left in the game, allowed Fairfield to cut Quinnipiac’s lead to two points. A Jonathan Kasibabu foul sent Quinnipiac guard Cameron Young to the free throw line with 23 seconds left.

As if the game didn’t have enough drama at this point, Young missed his first free throw.

He sank the second, but being a three-point game, Fairfield had a chance to make Quinnipiac pay for its recent mistakes. However, Quinnipiac fought off a last second heave by none other than Fairfield’s best player, Tyler Nelson.

Quinnipiac escaped Long Island with its third straight conference victory.

The old adage that defense wins championships held true today.

Nelson’s 13 points might indicate he had a good game, but his complete stat line would prove otherwise. He went 4-for-16 from the field including 1-for-8 from behind the arc. Quinnipiac’s quick defense never let Nelson find a rhythm.

“Our goal was to make him uncomfortable,” Dunleavy said. “We knew we could do a great job and he could still have 20. I think we made him a little uncomfortable, maybe a little bit rushed and that’s probably the best thing you can do against a player of that caliber.”

The man tasked with shutting Nelson down was Quinnipiac guard Isaiah Washington. Washington rose to the task and his defense is a big reason his teammates will go to bed with a smile on their faces.

“Coach and I talked about focusing on defense and letting your offense to come you,” Washington said. “I knew a big part of what they do was through (Nelson) so I tried to, as coach said, sacrifice myself for the team on defense and the shots just came.”

The Bobcats got contributions from their usual cast of characters: Abdulai Bundu, Cameron Young and Washington all scored in double figures, and the team as a whole shot fairly well.

“We have a lot of very high character guys that work very hard and stay ready,” Dunleavy said. “As a coach, everybody has their different philosophies. Cam’s our leading scorer but in no way are we married to him taking a certain amount of shots.”

Coming off two straight conference victories before Saturday, the Bobcats needed another win against an inferior opponent to keep pace with the top teams in the conference, and they did.

“I don’t want it to be the ‘end all be all’ for this group,” Dunleavy said. “I think certainly, the most difficult part of our schedule is probably ahead of us. It’s the way you measure success and progress. It’s good for our guys to feel it. It’s great for us to reap some benefits from our work so I’m proud of our record. We know with a couple different bounces here and there it could be different but we’re getting better.”

Next game Quinnipiac will face perhaps its toughest task, when it travels to Iona to play the reigning conference champions on Feb. 2.

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