Quinnipiac ignores the noise, beats Rhode Island 67-62 on Monday


Cameron Levasseur

Graduate transfer forward Ike Nweke recorded a double-double in his Quinnipiac debut on Monday.

Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor

KINGSTON, RI – In an atmosphere that rivaled some professional arenas, the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team slammed the door on the Ryan Center and the Rhode Island Rams. Led by graduate transfer forward Ike Nweke, the Bobcats were able to silence the crowd and earn a 67-62 win on Monday night. 

In March, URI hired Archie Miller to be the 21st men’s basketball head coach in the school’s history. In his first game on the Rams’ sideline, the hosts matched up well, but the lack of experience was evident in the team’s late-game struggles. 

Nweke and junior forward Paul Otieno both got the starting lineup nod in their Quinnipiac debuts. The use of the two big men helped the Bobcats play strong in the paint, and while the Rams led the game in rebounds, it was the 6-2 differential in three pointers that played a critical role in the win.

Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy spoke highly about how his newcomers have adjusted to a new system after the game. 

“A learning-growth mentality, an openness to being coached,” Dunleavy said. “A guy like Ike Nweke … kept us in the game in the first half with his offensive rebounds. I think those guys have really bought in.”

Nweke recorded a double-double in his Quinnipiac debut, dropping 13 points and 11 rebounds, filling in beautifully for the now-graduated Kevin Marfo, who seemed to put up similar numbers on a nightly basis.. On the other end, Rhode Island boasted redshirt freshman forward Abdou Samb, who stuffed the stat sheet, picking up eight points, four boards and a ridiculous block that sent the Ryan Center into a frenzy. 

Early in the first half, both teams were fairly even on the glass, an expected occurrence as they each began the game with big lineups. As expected, the Rams and Bobcats were physical to start the new season, racking up four fouls each in the first six minutes of play. 

Quinnipiac was able to get some key contributors back from missing the end of last season. Redshirt senior guard Savion Lewis, who tore his Achilles in December 2021, played a key role in the Bobcats’ backcourt. Lewis was able to dish the ball along the perimeter early and often, usually finding fellow guards like redshirt senior Matt Balanc and junior Dezi Jones.

“(To) win a tough game, they came back, it seems in the past we may have crumbled,” Balanc said. “This team has the players and the talent to toughen it out.”

The second half was not the start the Rams had hoped for coming out of the locker room. Rhode Island began struggling from the field, hitting only one shot in the first five minutes. A 9-0 run by the Bobcats helped elevate their lead to 10, Quinnipiac’s largest of the night. 

With just over 10 minutes left in regulation, Balanc was on the losing end of two costly plays, both leading to buckets for Rhode Island. This capped off what was a 8-0 run for the Rams. 

Balanc, an uber-athletic guard who was unanimously named to the Preseason All-MAAC 1st Team a few weeks ago, tended to struggle late in games last season. This year? Both Balanc and his teammates have the same mentality about closing games out, as shown on Monday. 

“The teams in the past were offense-oriented, our focus has to be on the defense,” Balanc said. “(When) we get turnovers, it changes our team. In moments like that, you need to lock down.”

Although the Bobcats got into foul trouble early in the second half, their ability to adjust on both sides of the ball was a testament to the charismatic coaching style of Dunleavy and the depth of this Quinnipiac squad. 

“We showed great grit, obviously not great poise,” Dunleavy said. “We have really resilient players … it’s a great moment for us to go and win a game in this situation.”

Towards the end of the game, almost everyone in the arena was on their feet as critical free throws from both Thomas and Leggett helped claw the deficit down to just a single bucket. 

With time slowly dwindling away, Otieno had grabbed several key rebounds on both sides of the court and a huge free throw from Luis Kortright iced the game for the Bobcats, who begin their season 1-0 for the first time since 2020. 

Quinnipiac will now head to Easton, Massachusetts, to face off against the Stonehill Skyhawks Thursday at 7 p.m.