Nweke goes for career-high 24 points, Bobcats win sixth straight


Daniel Passapera

Quinnipiac men’s basketball sits one game back of the top spot in the MAAC after Sunday’s win over Canisius.

Zack Hochberg, Staff Writer

HAMDEN, Conn – The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team defeated Canisius 87-82 Sunday afternoon, winning its sixth straight game to move within one game of first in the MAAC. 

The Bobcats jumped out to a quick 10-5 lead, powered by a dunk from graduate student forward Ike Nweke and a tough layup from redshirt senior guard Matt Balanc. The Bobcats were able to get four of their five starters on the board early. 

Canisius attacked Quinnipiac’s ball handlers at half-court, oftentimes doubling the guard coming off screens instead of switching or trying to run through the screens. 

That aggressive defense gave the Bobcats fits early on, forcing seven turnovers in the game’s first eight minutes, which allowed Canisius to snag a 13-10 lead, with 10 of those points coming off of forced turnovers.

Eventually, Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy figured out how to combat the Canisius defense. Whenever the Golden Griffins went to double, the Bobcats would slip the screener towards the paint, and all the guard had to do was feed the bigs, which created a four-on-three situation almost every time Canisius hedged the Bobcat ball screens. 

Nweke and junior forward Paul Otieno became key decision makers with the ball in their hands. 

“Canisius likes to hedge the ball screens, so it was just a lot of slips and short rolls,” Nweke said. “That’s where I excel, so just to start I kinda just had to get my motor going by offensive rebounding, tip-ins, any type of junkyard dog type of buckets I could get to get myself going.”

After the Bobcats turned it over seven times in the first eight minutes, the improved game plan helped Quinnipiac to just one turnover in the eight minutes following. 

Otieno and Nweke feasted on their mismatches, with Otieno leading the way with 10 points late in the first. 

Redshirt junior forward JJ Riggins got into the action as well, scoring back-to-back buckets to push the Quinnipiac lead to 11,  forcing  a Golden Griffins timeout. 

The best display of Nweke’s impact came in the final possession of the half, when the Bobcats had multiple looks at the rim before Nweke ultimately finished off the job as the buzzer sounded, sending Quinnipiac to the locker room with a 42-31 advantage.

During halftime, Quinnipiac took the chance to honor their alumni, including members of the 1971-72 and 1972-73 championship teams.

“Post-COVID I think all of us enjoy getting together with people, whether it’s family or coworkers in-person, for us, former players,” Dunleavy said. “It’s always great to have those guys back … It’s important for our guys to meet them, to know that, whether it’s division two, division one, NEC, MAAC, we’ve got great players who have played here and we have guys who care a lot about this school. So, to have the opportunity to honor them means a lot.”

The Bobcats continued to dominate the interior in the second half. Four minutes in, Quinnipiac was outscoring Canisius 28-14 inside, grabbing three more offensive rebounds and seven more defensive rebounds.

The Golden Griffins didn’t go away, storming back thanks to a 13-2 run to tie the game. Canisius knocked down four of the first six three-pointers in the second half after going 5-13 in the first. 

“I thought even when we forced missed shots, they got like every offensive rebound,” Dunleavy said. “They started really getting aggressive with their three-point shooting and then they started changing a couple of their screening actions to take advantage of our switching.” 

The Bobcats jumped back in front midway through the second when Luis Kortright got fouled shooting a three-pointer that found the bottom of the net. 


However, shortly after, Kortright went down, holding his leg while trainers assisted him to the locker room. The injury left the Bobcats without Kortright and junior guard Dezi Jones, who exited earlier in the game and never returned.

Unlike Jones, Kortright was able to return to the Quinnipiac bench after getting evaluated and eventually he checked back into the contest.  

The two teams continued to battle back-and-forth, with Nweke hitting a free throw to give the Bobcats a slim 71-70 advantage as the clock ticked to under three minutes. The free throw was part of a monster night from the Columbia transfer, who scored a career-high 24 points to go along with seven boards. 

Kortright came up big again, knocking down another three to give the hosts some breathing room with a four-point advantage. 

“He did a really good job for us,” Dunleavy said. “When you can play the point with Dezi out, it gives us great size on both ends … Even though he’s in his third year here, due to some injury last year and COVID the previous year, he’s still rounding out into his identity as a player, he’s still gaining confidence and I think this game should be a big step for him, just continually growing as a player.”

Matt Balanc stuck the dagger in the Golden Griffins’ hearts with 28 seconds to go, leaking out on a missed shot for a massive jam, capping off an 87-82 Bobcat victory. 

The win, Quinnipiac’s sixth straight, moved the Bobcats to 15-5 overall and 6-3 in MAAC play. 

With Siena losing to Fairfield earlier in the day, the Bobcats now sit just one game back of the No. 1 seed in the conference.

Quinnipiac will be back in action on Jan. 29, when they travel to New Rochelle to take on Iona at 1 p.m.