[media-credit id=2200 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]“We’re always talking about improvement and growth and if something would’ve happened similar to Colorado (when Quinnipiac lost at the buzzer), it’s the same thing I’d be saying. I really felt like we had incredible growth tonight, win or loss.”
That was Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy after the Bobcats’ 68-66 upset win over UMass Amherst on Wednesday, Nov. 29. But really, it’s a quote that will be applicable all year long.
This year is not about winning the MAAC Championship, or even getting a top-five seed in the MAAC. As Dunleavy constantly preaches, it is about “improvement and growth,” and he has to be happy with the growth out of his team in just the first month of the season.
After its thrilling 89-87 win over Columbia on Monday night, Quinnipiac improved to 3-6 on the season, with a few tough losses (Colorado, Maine, Brown) and a couple of huge wins (UMass, Columbia) already on its resume.
The win over Columbia came in a dramatic back-and-forth battle that saw 12 lead changes, with the final one coming on a Rich Kelly layup with 4.8 seconds left to seal the win.
The freshman guard has had an up-and-down season thus far, scoring a season-high 22 points in the win over Columbia after scoring in single digits in five of the Bobcats previous six games.
“We had the ball in (Kelly’s) hands at the end of the game and we trust his decision-making,” Dunleavy said after Quinnipiac’s opening day win over Dartmouth. “I’m testing him with those minutes. He’s going to be tired at the end of the game defensively, so it’s just something he’s going to have to adapt to.”
It seems as though Kelly has adapted well, as he came up with big play after big play in Monday’s win. He had five points in the final minute, including a game-tying three and the go-ahead layup. Dunleavy praised Kelly after his late-game heroics.
“He’s a freshman, but he’s our decision maker,” Dunleavy said. “He’s our leader.”
The first two games of Quinnipiac’s five-game road trip have actually mirrored its last two home games against Maine and UMass. Three really solid halves of basketball, but one really bad one that resulted in two losses vs. Maine and Lafayette.
At Lafayette on Saturday, the Bobcats led 30-29 at the half and continued their string of solid basketball from the UMass game and second half of the Maine game. In the second half, the rails came off and Quinnipiac fell 79-58.
“I think the overall theme of inconsistency can always manifest itself with a new group, but we don’t want to make excuses,” Dunleavy said after the loss to Maine. “We want to be above (excuses) and be able to recognize, and admit (when we do something wrong).”
Aside from Kelly, another freshman Bobcat has stepped up so far on this road trip. Jacob Rigoni, a guard from Australia, matched his career-high with eight points in the loss to Lafayette, and then exploded for 20 points with four 3-pointers in the win at Columbia. Junior guard Andrew Robinson also added 14 points off the bench in the win.
“I think our depth is just stepping up,” Dunleavy said after the UMass game. “I’ve probably started to give some more opportunity to our bench whether we’re in foul trouble or not. We’re extending our rotation, and those are the things that you feel out as the season goes.”
If guys like Rigoni and the Robinson twins can keep producing solid offensive numbers off the bench, they will continue to earn minutes and make the Bobcats that much more successful.
Games like Columbia show that on any given night, Quinnipiac can hang with an opponent. Just don’t expect that every night, because games like Lafayette will always bring them back down to earth.