Runnin’ The Point: Diving into the defense

The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team looks to improve its defense this season

Logan Reardon, Staff Writer

“Defense wins championships.”

Perhaps the oldest cliché in sports?

For the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team last season, the defense wasn’t always good, but it wasn’t always bad.

But when things mattered most, the Bobcats couldn’t get stops.

“I think we were inconsistent defensively last year. Which – if you want to win championships – you just can’t be,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said. “I do think a lot of times that’s the makeup of your team and how well you’re coaching it.

Morgan Tencza
Former Quinnipiac guard Cam Young defends a Hartford ball handler.

“I’m hoping we can establish way more defensive consistency than we had last year by the end (of this season).”

He’s not wrong. The end of last year looked promising for the Bobcats, but a lack of consistency sent them home far earlier than expected.

Over the final three games of the regular season, Quinnipiac went 2-1 while allowing just 59.3 points per game (season average was 72.7). But in postseason play, Dunleavy’s squad crumbled, allowing 98 points in its MAAC quarterfinals loss to Monmouth and 92 in a loss to NJIT in the Tournament.

This year, the Bobcats have allowed 75 points per game in their first two contests, up from 72.7 last season. Obviously the sample size is miniscule, and one of their opponents was Miami – a high-major program – so it’s tough to judge thus far.

But look at their opening game against Brown, a 70-68 loss. Brown scored just 70 points – a season-low through three games – and shot only 35.1 percent from the floor. Quinnipiac unleashed a 2-3 zone for most of the game, which clearly stymied the Bears.

“I think we have a different energy and commitment to (defense) this year,” junior point guard Rich Kelly said. “Last year we had Cam, and he was so good offensively that we’d just get in the habit of watching him (and forget the defensive side). ‘That’s how we’re going to win games, just watch Cam.’”

Cam. How could we forget Cam? Cameron Young scored 1,350 points over the last two seasons (19.3 PPG). It’s easy to forget about defense when you have a player getting buckets like that.

Young scored 28 points or more in 10 games last year. The Bobcats were 5-5 in those games — almost on par with their 16-15 overall record — but they allowed over 75 points in nine of those 10 games. Kelly’s assessment of the team stopping and staring at Young is spot-on.

“It’s just about being on the same page,” junior forward Jacob Rigoni said. “Last year, we were probably off doing our own thing too much. It’s about focusing on your individual role and who you’re guarding, but also stepping up and helping your teammates.”

Morgan Tencza
Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy discusses the gameplan during the timeout.

Kelly and Rigoni — now two of the elder statesman on the roster — both insist it won’t be one player stepping up and guarding the opponent’s top threat. While that may be the case, it would be wise to utilize sophomore guard Tyrese Williams in that role — at least in spurts.

Williams, listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, started 30 of 31 games as a freshman and averaged just over a steal per game. His weight was listed at 185 this year and last, but Williams revealed that that number might be inaccurate.

As he walked up to the podium for questions last week, I was inclined to ask about his size. He looked bigger, stronger — more defined. Williams shared that he gained over 10 pounds during the season last year due to bad eating habits. This summer, he re-dedicated himself to the gym and eating the right foods.

“Guarding quicker and stronger guys it’s definitely going to give me an edge,” Williams said when asked if his newfound size will help him defensively. “In the MAAC we don’t really have a lot of bigger guards, so I’m a bigger guard that can laterally stay with quicker guards but also stay with a forward-type guard. I definitely think it’s going to give me an edge.”

Williams played far more minutes than any other freshman last season. Matt Balanc and Savion Lewis both redshirted the year, while Tyree Pickron played inconsistent minutes off the bench.

Dunleavy clearly trusts him and expects him to make a leap.

“Any time you go from freshman to sophomore and you’ve started as many games as Tyrese did, naturally as a coach you’re hoping for a big jump,” Dunleavy said. “And I think that jump comes from confidence and familiarity.

“… I think you’re looking for that sense of aggressiveness that you’re looking for from an upperclassman.”

Williams might not be the only answer, but he is a vital part of a defense that desperately needs to improve.

Quinnipiac hosts the inaugural Bobcat Invitational this weekend from the People’s United Center, with three games in three days beginning Friday, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m.

Keep an eye on the defense.