Three in the Key: A new chapter

Brendan O'Sullivan, Sports Editor


Junior guard Rich Kelly remembers the quiet locker room following the 98-92 loss to the Monmouth Hawks in the MAAC quarterfinals.

A feeling that he said will never go away and is thankful for. Something that he believes it necessary for this year’s success.

“I’m really excited that we lost that game with the perspective I have now,” Kelly said. “In the moment, it sucked. It was one of the worst losses I’ve ever taken, but now looking back at it, I’m glad it happened because it’s only going to propel us forward.”

Despite being upset in the MAAC tournament, the 2018-19 Quinnipiac men’s basketball team set a standard for regular-season success with its 16-15 overall record and 11-7 MAAC record, both the best finishes since the 2013-14 season.

Morgan Tencza
Junior guard Rich Kelly drives to the paint.

Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy enters his third season as the head coach, and one challenge that he faces is the loss of reigning MAAC Player of the Year Cam Young.

Young averaged 23.5 points per game (PPG) on 48.2%/43.7%/76.6% shooting splits. He scored 699 points last year, the most by a Quinnipiac player, breaking his own record of 622 the previous year.

Without him, there’s a glaring gap in the offense, a 23.5 PPG gap. Dunleavy doesn’t necessarily see a single player filling that hole. Rather, he’s expecting the whole team to step up.

“We have not just one guy that fits that role, but maybe three, four, five guys,” Dunleavy said. “Cam averaged 24 points per game for us last year. We don’t have anybody that’s going to average 24 more points.”

The team welcomes three freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and one graduate-student transfer from Northwestern. These six, along with the returning Bobcats, are seeking an improvement despite losing a Quinnipiac star.


In addition to losing Young, the Bobcats said farewell to seniors Abdulai Bundu, Aaron Robinson and Andrew Robinson. The 2019-20 team doesn’t have any seniors, so Kelly, redshirt junior forward Kevin Marfo and junior forward Jacob Rigoni will be leaned on as the leaders of the young team.

Since freshman year, when Kelly was thrown “into the fire,” according to Dunleavy, the point guard has had a significant role in the offense. He led the team in minutes played his freshman year and was third last season.

Another year in which Kelly takes on a significant role is expected, but he may see more time off the ball with redshirt freshman Savion Lewis entering the lineup.

It’s a role that Kelly isn’t accustomed to, but he’s excited for it nevertheless. He said the last time he played off the ball was in his junior year of high school.

“I think sometimes I’m going to have to take a little more of a scoring mentality this year when I’m off the ball,” Kelly said. “I’m ready to flip the switch a little bit when needed.”

Morgan Tencza
Redshirt junior forward Kevin Marfo and sophomore guard Tyree Pickron celebrate during a game.

Despite primarily playing point guard thus far, he showed the ability to knock down threes consistently during his sophomore season. From his freshman to sophomore year, he jumped from 31.7% to 45.7% in his three-point percentage by lowering his release point. He said he studied guards such as Steve Nash and Stephen Curry to quicken his release.

Kelly’s new role in the offense is not the only offensive shakeup. With Young gone, Marfo understands that everyone has to contribute. He sees a lot of ball movement thus far in the scrimmages; assist numbers are reaching 25. Marfo only expects that number to keep rising throughout the season.

Rigoni, like Kelly, will see a larger role in the offense. The junior forward brings an elite level of three-point shooting to the team. He scored 10.3 PPG on 38.2% from three on 5.6 attempts per game last season.

As he sees his offensive game expand, he’ll look to return to his freshman year shooting numbers. In 33 games, Rigoni shot 45.5% from distance on 5.0 attempts per game.

With Rigoni and Kelly seeing expanded roles, Marfo sees potential in the offense and believes that different players will be scoring in double figures throughout the season. If one guy is cold, someone else will step up in his place.

 Marfo then talked about the importance of the defensive side of the game. Marfo is the anchor of the team. He led the Bobcats in defensive rating — an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference — with a 100.6 rating. The next closest was Bundu at 104.2.

“I was never an offensive player, so the defensive side comes much easier to me,” Marfo said. “I think it’s about learning and forcing yourself to want more and have more of a mindset that you got to take things personal on the defensive side. And once we start doing that, I think that’s when we can be a real scary team.”


Marfo has taken freshman center Seth Pinkney under his wing early in the season. The two have the potential to be the top two defensive players on the roster, both protecting the rim at a high level.

“Seth is super talented,” Marfo said. “I tell him that all day, every day I see him. Want more from yourself because he’s so shy. He’s seven feet, but he doesn’t know he’s seven feet yet.”

Pinkney stands at 7-foot-1-inch, the tallest player Quinnipiac has rostered dating back to the 2007-08 season. His height and length are paired with rare mobility for a player of his size.

He joins the Bobcats after playing a post-graduate year on the 2018-19 Center for Basketball Development (CBD) National team at Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida.

The CBD is designed to make student athletes more fundamentally sound while also developing a strong skill set. While Pinkney didn’t play with other Montverde alum, including first-round draft picks RJ Barrett, D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons, he still brings a great deal of experience to Quinnipiac.

Morgan Tencza
Junior forward Jacob Rigoni takes a pull-up jumpshot.

In his short time here, he’s been open to learning something new every practice.

“(He’s) always asking for feedback and moving onto the next play,” Kelly said. “He never gets too down on himself, and I’m really looking forward to that. (He’s) just that type of guy when you’re in battles and he’s like ‘What’s next?’”

Alongside Pinkney, the Bobcats welcome freshmen forwards Brendan McGuire and Jamal Riggins and graduate student forward Aaron Falzon.

Falzon, who according to ESPN was ranked 75th in the nation in the class of 2015, redshirted his sophomore season after suffering a season-ending injury just three games into the season. He’ll play his last year of eligibility with the Bobcats.

The graduate student adds to the team’s offense with good three-point shooting. In his freshman and redshirt sophomore seasons, he shot 35.4% and 37.5%, respectively. In his redshirt junior season, he shot 31.7%, but he was limited to 17 games due to injuries.

Falzon formerly played for Northwestern in the Big Ten, a top-tier basketball conference. This allowed him to bring a different level of experience to the Bobcats.

“Almost every night it’s a big game, it’s a huge game,” Falzon said. “The arenas are sold out, everything’s loud, everybody’s energetic.”

That said, Falzon is still in his first year with Quinnipiac and is already learning what it takes to be a Bobcat from the underclassmen.

“I kind of felt like the freshman again,” Falzon said. “Every day they’ve kind of helped me become part of the program.”

Some of the underclassmen, specifically two redshirt freshman Lewis and Matt Balanc, haven’t touched the hardwood yet.

Despite not playing last year, both players have been able to practice and bond with the team.

Balanc, a bouncy, 6-foot-3 guard, is expected to come off the bench for Dunleavy. He does a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor but will primarily be used as an energy player.

“(Dunleavy) made it clear that I was going to come in and be a hustle player, someone who can just really get the team going,” Balanc said. “I can score and stuff like that, but I’m going to bring the team together, make some hustle plays and hard-working plays.”

Lewis, New York’s 2018 Mr. Basketball — an award given to the top high school boys’ basketball player — has showcased his quickness and ability to drive to the rim. Dunleavy is most excited for his driving capabilities along with his activeness on the defensive end of the floor.

In addition, Lewis is fearless attacking the basket. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, but isn’t afraid of any big. Part of this is his mentality, but his physical growth over his freshman season plays a huge part as well.

“It doesn’t really scare me at any point,” Lewis said. “I don’t see a bigger guy as someone that’s going to take me off my game or make me not want to take a certain shot.”

Lewis is expected to play a lot of point guard for the Bobcats this season, even if Kelly is on the court. The two point guards have different play styles, as Lewis is quicker and more athletic in comparison to Kelly.

That said, Lewis said he studies Kelly’s game and has learned to become more patient and disciplined, allowing him to read the defense better.

Both point guards feed off of each other and it’s clear that the two have a special bond thus far.

“Savion is not only a great player, he’s also a great guy,” Kelly said. “Naturally, as a player, you’re a point guard and you see another point guard come in and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is my competition.’

“I met him knowing he’s a great dude, so I was happy to have him. I think we play well together, and when I’m not in, I think he does a great job as well.”

The new-look Bobcats are turning the page and beginning a new chapter of basketball in Hamden.

Kelly was selected to the MAAC All-Rookie Team and the All-MAAC Second Team in his freshman and sophomore seasons respectively but remains focused on goals beyond individual success.

When asked what’s next in his development, Kelly simply said, “A MAAC Championship.”


MAAC semifinals loss.