Bobcats fall to 0-1 in MAAC play, lose heartbreaker to Niagara


Peyton McKenzie

The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team dropped its second-straight game on Sunday.

Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor

HAMDEN, Conn – The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team, who had been trending upwards among mid-major programs, took its early success into today’s MAAC opener. However, the Bobcats were unable to keep up their out-of-conference winning ways, falling to the Niagara Purple Eagles 64-60 Sunday afternoon.

Dictating the final score was Niagara’s superstar tandem of sophomore forward Aaron Gray and senior guard Noah Thomasson. The two combined for 38 points on the floor, each scoring four times from beyond the arc.

“We tried to attack (Thomasson) and he had great poise,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said. “First half, I think we did a good job on him … Once he gets it going, it’s really hard to stop him.”

The majority of the opening minutes of the game focused on the inside game, as the Bobcats recorded 22 of their first-half 25 points from inside the arc. This was also evident on the defensive side, as Niagara struggled to keep up with switches made by Dunleavy’s squad. 

There were visible frustrations in the first half by the Niagara coaching staff, as head coach Greg Paulus, assistant coach Kevin Devitt and director of basketball operations Austin Kelley were on the ground (literally), screaming and pounding the court. 

Meanwhile, the Bobcats stayed composed in what was a physical start to the game, an expected occurrence with the MAAC schedule kicking off for both sides. 

“It’s interesting how you go to the MAAC in early December and then leave it,” Dunleavy said. “It’s the MAAC, every game’s close, every game’s tight.”

Sophomore forward Alexis Reyes, who missed the past three games with an illness, was slowly worked back into the rotation. The East Carolina transfer had two rebounds on the day in only 10 minutes of action. 

The second frame highlighted the Bobcats’ strengths and shined more light on their weaknesses. Graduate student forward Ike Nweke continued to excel in the rebounding department, grabbing a team-high nine, but his four missed free throws were critical down the stretch. 

In general, the free throws have been the Bobcats’ biggest weaknesses nine games in. Niagara drilled 10 three-pointers in the game, which was four more than the amount of total free throws made by Quinnipiac.

“Our guys have a minimum amount of shots they have to get every day,” Dunleavy said after being asked if free throws will be a focus in the upcoming practices. “Guys are working hard and will continue to work hard.”

For Niagara, Gray lit up Quinnipiac’s perimeter defense. The SNHU transfer, who greeted Reyes pregame for an embrace, dropped 14 points and nine rebounds, a team high.

With just over 11 minutes left in regulation, Thomasson led the visitors on an 8-0 run, scoring every single point and electrifying the Purple Eagles’ bench. Despite three long threes by Quinnipiac graduate student guard Tyrese Williams, the Bobcats were unable to contain the Gray-Thomasson duo on the other end.

Williams started to take over in the second half, demanding the ball consistently, as his team-high 18 points gave Quinnipiac hope late in the game. The Beacon, NY, native has scored 32 points in his last two games and has been a spark plug for this team early on.

“He’s a leader off of our bench,” Dunleavy said. “Really good shooter, wants to play the game the right way and helps us play well when he’s in there.”

Despite his best efforts, junior guard Dezi Jones struggled in the final minutes for the Bobcats. Jones turned the ball over a couple of times late in the second half and missed a three-point shot that would have pulled the host team to within one. 

Quinnipiac will look to rebound from its two-game losing streak by taking on Holy Cross on Wednesday. Tip-off will be at 7 p.m. as the Bobcats search for their first win on American soil since Nov. 18, against Albertus Magnus.