Quinnipiac pushes winning streak to four, staving off a comeback in 77-68 win over Niagara

Toyloy Brown III, Managing Editor

Sophomore guard Dezi Jones led Quinnipiac to its second MAAC win, scoring a career-high 20 points and 8 assists in the last men’s basketball game of 2021. (Alex Bayer)

While the average person hopes for wholesale changes entering the new year, Quinnipiac’s men’s basketball team may be the rare instance where it prefers to not change much at all. It’s understandable when the team is off to the best 11-game start in the Baker Dunleavy era. 

Quinnipiac fended off Niagara’s comeback efforts in the second half to win 77-68. The Bobcats (7-4, 2-1 MAAC) extended their win streak to four and have the fourth-best overall record in the conference. The home win is all the more impressive with the absences of leading scorer redshirt junior guard Matt Balanc and redshirt junior guard Savion Lewis who is out for the season with an Achilles injury. 

Both the Bobcats and the Purple Eagles entered the New Year’s Eve matinee from long layovers. The Bobcats last played Dec. 11, seven more days than Niagara, and it wouldn’t be surprising if both squads were rusty to start. That couldn’t be further from the truth in Quinnipiac’s case. 

Quinnipiac started the game with blistering shooting, showing no semblance of being a team coming off a 19-day hiatus. The team moved the ball crisply and entered into its offensive sets swiftly. The efficient shooting, especially from 3-point range, shined. The Bobcats went 8 of 14 from distance in the first half. 

Most 3-pointers started with a high screen from graduate student forward Kevin Marfo, who finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds. His screens often led to one of two things: a pass to Marfo who short rolled to the free-throw line area and kicked to the corner or multiple decisive passes around the perimeter to the open shooter. Marfo and sophomore guard Dezi Jones finished with five and eight assists, respectively. 

Graduate student forward Jacob Rigoni was the biggest beneficiary of the ball humming around the perimeter, leading the Bobcats in scoring with 11 points and 3 of 4 shooting from downtown. Quinnipiac also scored efficiently from two-point range, going 9 of 14. 

While the Bobcats’ offense was neat, the team’s fierce start was also due to their defense on the Purple Eagle’s top player: senior guard Marus Hammond. 

The 6-foot-3, lefty Hammond entered the contest leading the MAAC in points per game (17.5). Since no one else on Niagara averaged double figures, the Bobcats prioritized limiting Hammond’s scoring output as much as they could. That mission was a success. In the first half, Hammond shot 1 of 4 from the field and finished the game with 12 points on 4 of 12 shooting. He had his second-lowest field goal percentage of the season in today’s outing. 

The MAAC’s scoring king was guarded most by Quinnipiac’s best perimeter on-ball defender, sophomore wing Tymu Chenery. Chenery used his rangy length at 6-foot-6 to consistently bother Hammond on drives while also sacrificing his body for charges, taking two in the first half. Chenery also received backline help defense from Marfo and other teammates around the paint and the free-throw line extended. 

The first half concluded with the Bobcats leading 46-30.

Quinnipiac controlled the game after 20 minutes of great shooting and strong execution of its defensive game plan. The Purple Eagles did not allow the last 20 minutes to be a repeat of the first.

The Bobcats’ shooting went cold, and they committed 10 turnovers in the second half. On the other end, the Purple Eagles closed out better on shooters so fewer looks were uncontested. They also played less mistake-prone basketball, committing only three turnovers in the half. 

Niagara’s other starters rolled offensively while Hammond struggled, specifically graduate student forward Jordan Cintron and graduate student guard Justin Roberts. They combined for 27 points, and the 5-foot-10 Roberts connected on consecutive 3-pointers with the final one happening with 8:11 left in the game. The triple made the score 59-52 with the Bobcats still ahead. 

Niagara cut its deficit to three points on a few occasions, but Quinnipiac’s saving grace from a potential collapse happened with 39 seconds remaining with the ball in its possession. Coming out of a timeout, the Bobcats ran its most important play of the afternoon. 

Jones, who played all 40 minutes, ran the clock down from the top of the key and received a screen from Marfo. The Purple Eagles’ frontcourt defender hedged hard on Jones. Rigoni lurked from the right side of the court to the left wing where Jones passed it to him. The Adelaide, Australia native Rigoni received the ball in his shooting pocket and iced the game with a 3-pointer to give the Bobcats a 73-68 lead with 20 seconds remaining. This important shot caused an enthusiastic reaction from the normally mild-mannered Rigoni. 


After some free throws from intentional fouls by Niagara and a third charge drawn by Chenery in the closing seconds, the Bobcats ended the year with a home victory without two crucial players.

Jones led the Bobcats in scoring with a career-high 20 points, and Rigoni, who scored 14, is now tied for the most games played in program history with 127 alongside James Johnson (‘12). 

Quinnipiac will play for the first time in 2022 on Jan. 7, against Canisius. Its original upcoming game vs. Rider on Jan. 2, was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.