No. 11 Quinnipiac men’s basketball advances to the MAAC quarterfinals for the first time in three years, upsetting No. 6 Marist 77-52

Toyloy Brown III, Managing Editor

The Bobcats live to see another day, achieving a MAAC tournament win for the first time since March 1, 2018. 

Quinnipiac’s 77-52 triumph over the No. 6 Marist Red Foxes is obviously sweet as it remains in the race to be crowned kings of the MAAC in Atlantic City. It is even sweeter considering the Bobcats pulled an upset win as a No. 11 seed who closed their regular season on a six-game losing streak. 

“For all those you’ve watched us, you know, we had some really good stretches within games, we’ve had some bad luck, we’ve had some injuries,” said Baker Dunleavy, Quinnipiac head coach. “A lot of easy excuses and ways to feel sorry for ourselves and credit to our veterans and everybody that just bought into not hearing those excuses, continuing to work and improve.”

The longest-tenured veteran on the Quinnipiac roster saved his best game of the season for the start of the playoffs. Graduate student forward Jacob Rigoni finished with a season-high 26 points and a career-high-tying seven 3-pointers. Just as impressive as the total of shots he drilled from beyond the arc was the efficiency, converting on 7-of-11 from deep and 8-of-14 from the field. 

The Adelaide, Australia native’s shooting exploits were emblematic of Quinnipiac’s overall red-hot shooting. The Bobcats rained 17 triples on the Red Foxes, making their most 3-pointers in the past two regular seasons. Quinnipiac shot 48.6% from the outside, its best 3-point shooting percentage since Jan 28. The not-so-lucky opponent of that game: Marist, who lost 94-87 with Quinnipiac shooting 51.9% with 14 makes from outside. 

Quinnipiac’s perimeter success was predicated on good ball movement and consistent paint touches from drives by guards or passes to cutters who kicked it out if the layup was unavailable at the basket. 

“It starts with our guards doing a great job of getting in the paint, we got a big guy setting great screens,” Rigoni said. “Our guards did a great job of getting in there and kicking it out and we made extra passes to each other and we got a lot of trust in each other.”

Quinnipiac’s unselfishness was a sight to behold and sustained throughout two halves, improving as time went on. The Bobcats showed why they entered the night leading the MAAC in 3-pointers per game (8.8) and second in points per game (72.5) 

“They’re the number two team offensive efficiency in our league,” said John Dunne, Marist head coach. “They just moved the ball really, really well. They shared it and they just drilled shots, man, and when Rigoni is shooting it like that, yeah, you have to make him dribble. He was just really good today. They all were, so it was their night.”

While the exceptional shooting was the most charming part of the Bobcats’ win, the defense they played was also noteworthy. The Red Foxes were unable to make more than one 3-pointer in either half, ending the night 2-of-17 from beyond the arc. The Bobcats hung in tight defensively in the second half with the Red Foxes, who scored only 27 points on 34.4% field-goal shooting. 

After Rigoni’s lightning shooting performance, Quinnipiac enjoyed brilliant games from sophomore guard Dezi Jones and redshirt junior guard Matt Balanc. Jones dictated the offense, creating for himself and others as he eluded defenders all night on his way to 20 points and eight assists. The Moberly Area Community College transfer also attacked the glass with 10 rebounds as the smallest player on the court at 5-feet-10-inches tall. Arguably the most impressive part of his game may have been that he finished with only a single turnover.

Balanc chipped in an efficient 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and a 4-of-5 outing from 3-point range. 

The Bobcats didn’t feel sorry for themselves as Dunleavy said and played crisp basketball from start to finish, possessing a business-like attitude. 

“I really am very impressed with this group and their ability to keep a positive mindset and not a B.S. one, not just tricking ourselves into having a smile on our face but a mindset that allowed us to come in, work and keep grinding,” Dunleavy said.

The same approach will be needed when they face No. 3 Siena (15-13, 12-8 MAAC) Thursday at 7 p.m. in the MAAC quarterfinals. The Saints will be without graduate student guard and All-MAAC Third Team selection Anthony Gaines. Siena defeated Quinnipiac in its two regular-season matchups.