The game wasn’t supposed to end this way for the Quinnipiac women’s basketball team. Not on the afternoon of their first-ever game at the much-hyped TD Banknorth Sports Center, a dazzling new arena which holds 3,500 and offers scenic views. Not during a litmus test game which, if passed, was certain to vault QU back into the Northeast Conference’s upper-echelon. Certainly not during a game which saw junior standout Monique Lee surpass the 1,000-point milestone, a feat accomplished by just 13 players in program history.
Coach Tricia Fabbri masked her frustration, calling the game a “tale of two halves” as QU was outlasted by conference foe Long Island, 69-65, on Saturday.
“Right now we’re not handling anyone’s runs,” said Fabbri, whose team fell to 11-7 (5-4 NEC) with the loss.
“We’re really lacking a mental toughness in stopping and defending,” she said. “It’s been a bit of a pattern. When the game’s on the line you gotta make plays to win games. We’re not doing it.”
Quinnipiac’s lead took a tumble with just under five minutes in the second half. Good looks at the basket clanked off the rim. Tight calls were questioned. Overwhelming defensive pressure was applied.
“It’s the toughness that we’ve had [in the past] that we’re lacking. It got to the point today where there was too much self-doubt in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” Fabbri explained.
LIU, however, is no slouch. The Blackbirds improved to 16-5 (9-1 NEC) with the victory and have catapulted to first place after reeling off eight straight victories.
The Bobcats relinquished an eight-point cushion in a sloppy second half. Behind a pair of 3-point gunners in Mikalar Whippy and Valerie Nainima, both of whom play for the Fiji national team, LIU surged ahead. Quinnipiac had difficulty stopping their outside shooters and the Blackbirds exploited this weakness.
“They [Long Island] played well. They executed when they had to. They played hard. The game was on the line and they made some stops, and then they just dictated and got some easy looks,” Fabbri said.
LIU outscored QU 15-10 throughout the first seven minutes and eventually seized control of the lead.
Though it was a back-and-fourth second half sword fight, a dynamic 15-4 run that QU never recovered from was the real heart stabber. The spurt was concluded with a Tessy Hetting free throw that put LIU ahead, 55-51, with 4:29 remaining.
Nicole Duperron drew a foul and hit on one-of-two from the line to thwart the run, but the momentum pendulum swung back in the Blackbirds direction after Whippy drained a big trey to jack the lead up to six.
A 6-1 run fueled by a pair of Erin Kerner free throws and completed by a Lee basket inside cut it to one, 59-58, with 2:26 to play.
The Blackbirds would hold strong, capitalizing on turnovers to push the lead to eight with time winding down.
Lee agreed with her coach that a fragile psyche plagued was what Bobcats.
“In the second half we had the lead but we got a little too comfortable. We had a couple mental lapses,” Lee said. “We have to know that teams are going to make runs and we have to stop the runs. We didn’t stop it in the second half.”
Quinnipiac came out firing and led 33-25 after a high-octane first half which saw it feature go-to-forward Lee, who dropped a season-high 25 points, and off-guard Mandy Pennewell.
Lee scored 12 points in the game’s first 12 minutes. Pennewell, who has garnered the distinction as the team’s sharpshooter, connected on all five of her shots en route to 11 first-half points.
Lee seemed virtually unstoppable during the first half as the Blackbirds did little to stop her. She bulldozed her way to the basket while also displaying a mid-range game. After Lee got free for a bucket for her 18th point of the game, she entered an elite society known as the 1,000-point club.