Quinnipiac becomes the first-ever 11th seed to reach the MAAC semifinals after a 77-71 win against No. 3 Siena

Toyloy Brown III, Managing Editor

History. That is what Quinnipiac men’s basketball made in Atlantic City. The Bobcats became the first No. 11 seed team to ever reach the MAAC tournament semifinals after defeating No. 3 Siena 77-71. 

In the course of five days, Quinnipiac (14-16, 7-13 MAAC) went from finishing the season in one of the worst ways possible — six straight losses and the last seed — to being one win away from contending in the MAAC championship. 

“It’s easy to break apart when things go against you and you lose games,” said graduate student forward Jacob Rigoni who had a team-high 16 points against the Saints and a season-high 26 points the game prior. “We really, truly did believe in ourselves and … when we come together and play that way, we’re capable of anything, you know we’re one of the best teams in the league.”

Win-loss records are meaningless when a team can survive just by winning the game immediately in front of them. That’s what the Bobcats have done, winning their second game in the MAAC tournament. 

Quinnipiac’s second win is largely due to its capacity to curtail the scoring prowess of Siena junior guard Colby Rogers — a member of the All-MAAC Second Team and the conference’s eighth leading scorer (14.1 points per game). Siena’s top dog had his second-worst shooting outing of the season, 5-of-18 shooting from the field. Redshirt junior guard Matt Balanc matched up against Rogers the most. 

“(We) really tried to not let him touch the ball, trying to keep him out of the offense,” Balanc said.

Once Rogers received the ball, Balanc and help defenders from Quinnipiac emphasized constant, heavy pressure on the Cal Poly transfer to ensure he did not have much breathing room for any easy baskets. The majority of Rogers’ shots were contested and located in between the 3-point arc and the paint. 

“They were physical with me, I got frustrated the first half,” Rogers said. “Every time I shot or caught the ball, it was tough.”

Rogers eventually watched the ball go through the hoop after shooting 1-of-7 from the field in the first half. His scoring chipped away at the Bobcats’ lead that was as large as 16 points with the score at 58-42 with 10 minutes left in the contest. But eventually, Rogers did what good players tend to do: find a way to put their stamp on the game and keep their team within striking distance. 

Siena surged, blitzing Quinnipiac with a 16-2 scoring over a four-minute stretch to make the comfortable lead the Bobcats possessed into a tight 60-58 ball game. 

How did the Bobcats respond? They kept their composure and made enough shots and free throws — nine of 10 all in the second half.

“We knew they were gonna go on a run at some point, I was proud of how we were defending,” said Baker Dunleavy, Quinnipiac head coach. “But proud of our guys, be able to put out the fire by just sticking with the game plan to what we do and having the guts to come up with some big shots.”

Big shots came from a variety of characters on this Quinnipiac roster. 

Balanc contributed the second-most points for the Bobcats with 15. He has the propensity to punish a defender at a moment’s notice when they ease up. 

Graduate student center Kevin Marfo scored seven of his nine points in the final 20 minutes. With a little less than 11 minutes to go, he grabbed an offensive rebound, legally rammed his left shoulder into the abdomen of senior center Jackson Stormo and finished through contact for the and-1 bucket. The New Jersey native’s play is even more impressive considering Stormo has a height advantage and averages 1.4 blocks per game. Marfo also had a pronounced effort on the glass with 11 rebounds. 

Sophomore guard Dezi Jones — who finished with 11 points, five rebounds and four assists — and Rigoni both knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Bobcats a 69-64 advantage.

In this game, the Saints’ defense appeared out of sorts with the Bobcats cutting and frequently screening, relying on more ball screens than usual for its guards.

“We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds, especially ball-screen defense,” said Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello. “We’re chasing guys that we don’t need to chase out of the scoring area, and were being overly aggressive on ball screens where they will come in, hit the pocket pass and get their big guys to the rim.”

The Bobcats started the game with lights-out shooting, and the contributions from its role players shouldn’t be forgotten. Junior center JJ Riggins scored all six of his points in the first half, benefitting from rolls to basket after setting screens. Sophomore guard Luis Kortright had himself an evening, scoring nine points and dishing seven assists. The Manhattan, New York, native was unfazed by the perimeter defenders he faced.

The Bobcats have impressed thus far, exceeding the expectations of any 11th seed in MAAC history. But the kind of history they are trying to achieve is meant to happen on March 12, on the championship stage. 

Before any of that is Quinnipiac’s semifinals matchup with No. 2 Saints Peter’s (17-11, 14-6 MAAC) who swept them in the regular season. The feat of beating Siena does not mean Quinnipiac will marinate in the feeling of being one of the four teams left. 

“We get one hour, one hour to decompress,” Dunleavy said. “There’ll be plenty of time for the rest of our lives to enjoy the moment if we do a good enough job.”

In the words of Kobe Bryant, “Job’s not finished.”