The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team strived to new heights this year following their NEC runner-up finish in 2002. The team built upon their successes of last year, and with the help of the improvement of their veterans and the immediate contributions of their freshmen, was able to climb the conference ladder and became a team to be reckoned with in the NEC.
After finishing seventh a year ago in the NEC the Bobcats, then known as the Braves, were able to advance to NEC championship in which they fell to league power house Central Connecticut State.
This year’s team was determined to better their record, improve their seed in the NEC tournament, and advance to the NCAA tournament. Led by returning starters Jeremy Bishop, Kason Mims, and Rob Monroe, the newly named Bobcats set their sights high. Added into the mix were Sophomore C.J. Vick and Junior Rashaun Banjo who rounded out the starting lineup.
Added to the roster were talented Freshmen Adam Tancredi, Patrick Egan, and Craig Benson, all of whom significantly contributed to the teams 2002-2003 success.
Quinnipiac started the season at UConn, coming up short 91-72. The game was a lot closer than the box score reflects. Monroe led the Bobcats with 16 points and was tied with Mims for a team high 6 assists.
The Bobcats had been in invited to compete in the Hofstra/ Wingate Holiday Tournament. They defeated Texas Pan-America in the first round, 72-62. Led by Rashaun Banjo who scored 22 points, the Bobcats cruised to the finals of the tournament where they played host school Hofstra.
Quinnipiac held off Hofstra 71-68 thanks to hot shooting in the second half. The Bobcats shot 58.6% (17 of 29) from the field and were led by Senior tri-captain Jeremy Bishop who registered a career high in points (29) and steals (8). Banjo hit a jumper with 8:22 remaining in the game to give the Bobcats the lead for good. Monroe earned MVP of the Hofstra tournament, averaging 18 points per game. Mims made the all-tournament team, averaging 9.5 points, eight assists, and six rebounds a game.
The Bobcats then proceeded to win four games in row. The first two were home victories against Manhattanville and Drexel. The Bobcats then took a road trip to Dartmouth and the University of Albany, both resulting in victories.
After starting 6-1, the Bobcats were struck by the injury bug, limiting the playing time of stars Bishop and Monroe. The team dropped its next five games. Three of the losses, Central Connecticut State, Holy Cross, and Sacred Heart, were all by less than 10 points.
The return of the Quinnipiac student body from winter break brought back the Bobcats’ winning ways. With two home wins in a row, the team got its record back over .500. Quinnipiac defeated Robert Morris 90-76, which was aired on MSG television. Two days later, the team handed St. Francis (PA) a loss with a 69-61 victory.
The following road trip would bring Quinnipiac back under the .500 mark for the season. Three consecutive loses to Monmouth, Fairleigh Dickinson, and St. Francis (NY) staggered the Bobcats and put their playoff contention in question.
A return back to the friendly confines of Hamden brought back the winning ways of the Bobcats. The men won three straight over NEC rivals Long Island University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Mount St. Mary’s. Two of the games, LIU and UMBC, were 10+ point victories. The Bobcats couldn’t complete the four game home sweep thanks to a 74-70 loss to Wagner which was televised on MSG television. During the home stand, the Bobcats were led by Mims who averaged 16.2 points per game.
The Bobcats, now on a roll, brought there show on the road, first visiting Sacred Heart, then LIU. They defeated Sacred Heart 78-69, led by Bishop, Banjo, and Mims who all scored 13 while Vick added 11 points and six rebounds.
Three days later, Quinnipiac invaded Brooklyn and defeated LIU 70-62. Monroe and Mims led QU with 13 points a piece.
The Bobcats then returned home and took St. Francis (NY) behind the woodshed, beating the 80-61. It was Senior night when Quinnipiac said good-bye to Bishop, Kareem Lee, Vernon Thompson, and Macklin Thornton. Mims led a well balanced attack with 21 points, six assists, and five rebounds. Monroe was 4-7 from three point land and added 18 points. All four seniors received playing time and Bishop banked home a three pointer which the crowd acknowledged with a loud ovation.
Avenging last year’s loss to Central Connecticut State, the Bobcats rolled into New Britian and stole a W 68-66. The game was sealed down the stretch by Vick who hit late game free throws keeping the game out of the Blue Demons reach. Mims scored 22 points and was an impressive 12-16 at the free throw line.
Off the high from that big victory, QU visited Mount St. Mary’s and to say good-bye to one of the winningest coaches ever in Division I history, Jim Phalen. The Bobcats spoiled Phalen’s going away party with a 63-52 victory. Mims and Egan paced the ‘Cats with 14 points a piece. Mims also added 10 rebounds.
With the fourth seed already locked in place for the NEC Tournament, the main priority for the final regular season game wasn’t to win but to get tuned up for the grueling NEC tournament. Quinnipiac visited UMBC, falling to the Retrievers 80-58. Vick lead the ‘Cats with 18 points. He was 7-13 from the field. Next came the NEC Tournament which was to be held on Staten Island, the home of Wagner.
Quinnipiac’s first round opponent, St. Francis (PA) was no straighter. The Bobcats defeated the Red Flash earlier in the season 69-61 in Hamden. The Bobcats rolled to a 75-57 victory in the second match up of the year. Three players scored in double figures led by Banjo who had 20 points. The Bobcats went on a 19-6 run to end the first half and never looked back. With the victory, the ‘Cats earned the right to play top seeded Wagner on their home floor.
The two teams met twice during the regular season. Wagner won both games, but only held off the Bobcats by four in Hamden. The ‘Cats trying to get back to the NEC championship game for the second straight game came out fired up. QU had a four point lead at the half but couldn’t hold off the Seahawks on their home floor. Quinnipiac came with two in the second half but that’s as close as they got.
Although the season didn’t end with an NCAA birth, the team did accomplish two goals, to increase their record, and become a higher seed in the NEC Tournament. With new Freshmen coming in for the upcoming season, the Bobcats are looking to make a run at the big dance and hope to be playing in March in 2004.