As part of the Dreyfus Festival in New York City, Quinnipiac was invited to play their first ever game in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. On January 3, Quinnipiac traveled to the Big Apple to play its first conference game of the season against the St. Francis (NY) Terriers, who lost to Wagner in the NEC Championship game last season. The Bobcats originally planned on opening their conference play on Dec. 6 at Central Connecticut State but the game was rescheduled due to a snowstorm.
Coming into The Garden, the Bobcats had yet to plan a home game and were slow out of the gates with just a 2-7 start. Two of the seven losses came at the expense of perennial powers No. 1 University of Connecticut and Notre Dame.
In anticipation of the Bobcats first inaugural game at MSG, Quinnipiac gave free tickets to any fan who wore the gold Bobcat T-shirt. Quinnipiac fans filled the entire seating area behind the Bobcat bench. The strong fan support solidified the team’s growth in the division I level. “It certified that we’re now a team to contend with in Division I,” said junior public relations major Andrew Chin. “Hopefully we’ll continue to move forward with the climb towards making the big dance.” The large turnout dwarfed the opposing crown of the Terriers.
The Bobcats wore their gold uniforms and were extremely energetic in pre-game warm ups. The QU faithful were deafening prior to the jump ball. The tip was won by Terrier center Devon Neckles, which was a foreshadow to the outcome of the game.
Senior forward Rashaun Banjo scored the first two points of the game by sinking a pair of free throws after being fouled by Neckles on a drive to the basketball. This was the last time the Bobcats would see the lead until the second half however.
The Terriers began to rain shots from behind the arc, ending the first half 8-14 from three point land for 57.1 percent. Senior Mike Wilson ended the half 3-5 from beyond the arc totaling 12 points at the break. The Terrier leader in the first half was often injured junior guard Tory Cavalieri who was 4-5 from three and ended the first 20 minutes tying for the game high with 14 points. Cavalieri had been bothered with a sprained ankle and reinjured it in midway through the first half after taking a shot. “When I landed on it, it was worse than the pain [when I injured it],” Cavalieri said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to [go] back in.”
The Bobcats were down three, 35-32 at the intermission. Banjo was the only ‘Cat in double figures with 14 points. Vick added nine rebounds, four offensive, for the Bobcats who won the first half rebound advantage 19-18. He out rebounded the Terriers’ two interior players, Neckles and Eric Thompson, 9-7. As a team, the ‘Cats shot 11-29 from the field for 37.9 percent. The team was 7-8 from the free throw line for 87.5 percent compared to the dismal shooting of St. Francis who was 5-12 for 41.7 percent. Banjo finished the half perfect from the line, shooting 7-7.
Quinnipiac not only brought its players and fans to MSG, it also brought its spirit groups. The cheerleaders, Kickline, Dance Company and Dance Mode all performed during halftime of the game. Each performance lasted about a minute and was applauded by the crowd. “After dragging the whole team to Long Island for practice, it was well worth it for us to perform in MSG, it was an awesome experience for everyone on the team,” said junior political science and criminal justice double major Michelle Cote, an officer of the Kickline squad.
The Bobcats made serious adjustments in the locker room during the half. Quinnipiac came out and took the lead for the first time since 2-0. Freshman Dale Meinbresse made a driving lay-up just 2:45 into the second half to give the Bobcats a 40-39 lead. Quinnipiac led by as many as five points with both Banjo and Vick scoring six points a piece to keep the ‘Cats ahead during a 10 minute span.
With 6:21 remaining in the second half, Terrier sophomore guard Christian Brown hit two critical three pointers to put St. Francis up for good. “The Brown kid made two big ones,” said Quinnipiac Head Coach Joe DeSantis. “They won the game because they made shots early and then again late.” From that point, the Terriers went on a 12-0 run to increase the lead to 61-50. Monroe snapped the scoring drought by sinking two free throws to cut the deficit to nine.
St. Francis got the lead back to 10 with 1:06 left thanks to a lay up by Damien Heard. From that point on, it was the Rob Monroe show for the Bobcats. The junior guard took control scoring eight of the 10 points for the Bobcats during the last minute of the game. He hit a three pointer with 0:05.2 left but it was too little too late and the Terriers held on to win 74-69, improving to 2-0 in conference play this season. The loss dropped Quinnipiac to 2-8 at the time and 0-1 in the NEC. DeSantis’ personal record against St. Francis (NY) fell to 2-8 all-time with the defeat.
Monroe led all scorers in the second half with 19 points, finishing with a game high 26. He has scored in double figured in every game this season, which leads the team. Going into the game, the Terriers’ Head Coach Ron Ganulin knew covering Monroe would be a priority. “We knew he was a shooter, we stayed right up on him,” said Ganulin. “We just tried to make him put it on the ground.”
Banjo had a season high 11 for the game. He finished with a then season high 24 points.
The Bobcats only shot 33.3 percent, 13-39, for the second half and launched 17 three pointers, only making three. Crafton, a three point specialist, was 0-7 for the game behind the arc, missing five down the stretch in the second half.
Three Bobcats, freshman Van Crafton, Meinbresse and senior Kason Mims, fouled out. As a team, the Bobcats registered 24 team fouls marking the eighth time in 10 games they have eclipsed 20. They have recorded 231 total fouls, 46 more than their opponents’ 185 mark.
Mims, a native of Astoria, New York, was only able to play 18 minutes in his homecoming, scoring five points and collecting five rebounds due to foul trouble.
Vick finished the game with 10 points and 13 rebounds as he continues to come into his own this season. Following his performance against Northern Arizona four days prior, a 79-70 loss, where he tallied career highs in both points with 21 and rebounds with 18, Vick averaged 15.5 points and 15.5 rebounds for the week ending Jan. 4.
Ten of the twelve active players saw action for Quinnipiac, with three, Monroe, Banjo and Vick, playing 38 minutes or more. Sophomore Craig Benson missed the game due to a knee injury.
Three games followed the Quinnipiac and St. Francis (NY) match up. The College of the Holy Cross fell to former NEC school Marist, 59-55. Currently on probation for the actions of the Fab Five back in the early 1990’s, Michigan is a program in disarray. However, the Wolverines were able to take down Fairfield, 66-43. The night cap was between St. John’s University, a team who plays most of its home games at MSG, and Niagara. The Red Storm was able to defend their home court and won, 72-65.