Quinnipiac Men’s Basketball Wins Third Straight

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Kevin Higgins

It’s not about how you start.

After enduring a grueling stretch of play that saw the Quinnipiac Bobcats men’s basketball team lose seven of nine games and fall to last place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the team certainly could have folded on an already challenging season.

However, a consistently strong defensive effort seems to have finally paired with a more efficient offensive output, and the result was a dominant week of games for the Bobcats, who won their third-straight contest in moving to 8-9 overall and 6-7 in the MAAC with Sunday’s 93-68 shellacking of the Rider Broncs (4-13, 4-10 MAAC).

Quinnipiac also beat Rider 80-64 on Saturday, in addition to topping Iona 74-70 on Wednesday.

Despite the recent success, Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy doesn’t think this is his team’s peak.

“Exciting team win, but more exciting is I feel like we’re getting better,” Dunleavy said. “We’ve just got to continue to improve.”

Perhaps the most important improvement, though, was the shooting. Quinnipiac’s 41.5% team shooting percentage ranks 279th nationally, so maybe it was only a matter of time before they finally got some friendly bounces, but the Bobcats couldn’t miss for most of Sunday’s game, shooting exactly 50% from the field and over 40% from deep.

In a scorching team performance that featured great ball movement and open looks, Luis Kortright best exemplified how hot Quinnipiac was from the floor. The first-year scored a career-high 25 points on 9-11 shooting, including 5-6 from three, while adding six boards and three assists to his final line.

After the game, Kortright explained that he knew it was going to be his day.

“Today I got in early, got some shots in,” Kortright said. “And from there I felt like I had it going. I was going to be able to show my team what I’m really about.”

With just five games remaining before the end of the regular season, it is indeed time to see what this team is really about. Quinnipiac has been a terrific defensive team this year — its 38.8% shooting percentage allowed is fifth-best in the entire country — but the offense has seen its fair share of struggles.

It was never going to be easy this year after losing the team’s top scorer and the nation’s top rebounder, but it looks as though the Bobcats might have figured out their scoring attack just in time.

Dunleavy has opted to use a smaller lineup recently, which has resulted in crisp passing, smart off-ball movements, and most importantly, wins. But he’s not too bullish about leaving the small ball group out for a more extended period of time just yet.

“If our smaller lineup could play defense like it’s not pick up, that would really help their chances to play on the floor together,” Dunleavy said, his mask surely hiding a grin. “It’s a fun group to watch when they’re clicking offensively but, like any lineup, the ability to play a lot of minutes is going to come down to how tough we are.”

Another good sign for Dunleavy is the re-emergence of the team’s senior leader, Jacob Rigoni. After a mercurial start to the season that saw Rigoni try to manage being the team’s most reliable shooting option, the Australian has settled into his role, highlighted by a 42-point output in his three games this week.

With Rigoni at his best, it opens the door for other Bobcats to get more chances offensively, which can lead to balanced team performances like this weekend’s; Quinnipiac had eight double-digit scoring performances against Rider.

Dunleavy explained how winning a stretch of games in a row like this has helped his team’s confidence on the floor.

“I think morale is a byproduct,” Dunleavy said. “Winning feels good, scoring feels good, playing together and passing feels good. I want the morale as high as anybody. When we have that, our talent shows.”

If the talent continues to show over the next few weeks, Quinnipiac might push for a higher seed in the MAAC tournament. The team is one win behind Niagara for fifth in the conference and two away from Marist, who sit in fourth.

With a pair of games against both Marist and conference favorite Siena coming up on the schedule, the Bobcats have a prime opportunity to rack up some more quality wins before the trip to Atlantic City.

Making a MAAC title run has always been about which team gets hot at the right time. Playing its best basketball of the season as the calendar turns to college basketball’s most religious month, Quinnipiac might just be that team.