Quinnipiac’s three-game win streak ends after loss to 16-3 Iona Gaels


Connor Lawless

Despite a 76-61 loss to Iona, Quinnipiac held its own against the No. 1 team in the MAAC.

Toyloy Brown III, Managing Editor

Today’s matinee was the Bobcats’ most important game of the season thus far. They matched up against the best team in the MAAC — the Iona Gaels (16-3, 8-0 MAAC), led by coach Rick Pitino.

The Bobcats’ performance would be an important test to see how they fare against the best team in the conference. The returns of this test appear lousy when basing it on the 76-61 final score. However, upon further inspection, Quinnipiac’s performance has some auspicious takeaways.

Quinnipiac’s three-game winning streak ended at home and while the final score looks unsavory, the Bobcats played the Gaels close throughout and had the game knotted at 51 with 8:42 left in the second half. Quinnipiac’s chances of accomplishing the upset (8.5-point underdogs) slipped gradually as Iona’s defensive pressure ratcheted late.

Iona entered on a four-game win streak and tried to make this game a rout early. The Gaels ripped 15 straight points in a four-minute span to take a 21-8 lead, forcing Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy to call a timeout roughly six minutes in.

Immediately after that break, the Bobcats played a 2-3 zone on defense, stymying the Gael’s offense that consistently got to its spots to score around the hoop. After stacking together stops, the Bobcats scored 11 consecutive points, getting a boost from its bench. During that stretch, sophomore guard Luis Kortright made two 3-pointers, both assisted by junior guard Brendan McGuire.

Kortright ended the day as the team’s second-leading scorer with a season-high 12 points. The 6-foot-7 McGuire came off the bench and played the second-most minutes for Quinnipiac (31) and served as the team’s primary initiator often in his time on the court. He had an all-around impact with eight points, a season-high nine rebounds and five assists.

The Bobcats’ ball movement and overall team play were notable as eight of the nine guys that checked in scored at least once in the first half.

“I think we’re just going to naturally be the type of team that’s going to have different guys step up different games,” Dunleavy said.

Pitino acknowledged that Quinnipiac’s offensive system presents a challenge for him as a coach.

“It’s not easy because they run such a good offense,” Pitino said. “Baker’s an outstanding offensive basketball coach … they’re as tricky as any team I’ve coached against.”

On the opposite end, Quinnipiac relied upon the zone defense it deployed. The 2-3 zone, which contributed to the poor shooting that befell Iona, switched to more of a man-to-man concept once the ball touched the paint.

“We planned on at least playing 50% zone,” Dunleavy said. “And then (the) success rates (of) possessions dictate how much you stick with it. So we’ve been playing a good amount of it, probably half. So we want to mix up our defenses and keep teams out of rhythm.”

The first half concluded with the score tied at 33 and the Gaels shooting 34.5% from the field and 3-11 from beyond the arc. The Bobcats drilled six of their 13 shots from downtown and engaged in a back-and-forth affair (12 lead changes and seven ties) with the cream of the crop of the MAAC.

The final lead Quinnipiac possessed occurred at the 10:22 mark of the second half after redshirt junior guard Matt Balanc, the team’s leading scorer who was recently inserted as a starter, scored his only field goal of the afternoon. Balanc finished with his worst shooting game of the season, 1 for 9 from the field, and his lowest point total of the season, four points.

Outside of his troubles, the Bobcats struggled to get the ball through the net, especially from beyond the arc.

“We had to stop giving up the 3, stop giving up penetration,” said Tyson Jolly, a graduate student guard for Iona. “That was the halftime adjustment.”

In the second half, Quinnipiac went 2-10 from 3-point land and had a 36.7% field goal percentage.

“One, their defensive effort and number two probably a little fatigue setting in,” Dunleavy said. “But definitely the quality of defense and our inability to kind of break it down into the interior.”

Iona’s comfort facing the zone eventually grew, and it scored 43 points in the second half on 50% shooting. Jolly finished with a game-high 20 points.

“We just had to start moving more,” Jolly said. “I think we were kind of stagnant in the zone early on and then we started getting the ball to the middle, started making the right reads.”

Quinnipiac measured itself against the team it will likely have to beat at some point if it wants to succeed once the conference tournament comes around.

“(I) felt the middle third of that game was largely how we want to play, especially against a really formidable opponent like Iona,” Dunleavy said. “So a lot of good things to take away. Certainly a lot to learn, I think when you play the best teams, the best coaches, that’s when you draw from those games of what you really want to improve.”

Quinnipiac will conclude its four-game homestand Jan. 28, against Marist (8-9, 3-5 MAAC).