Jumping through hoops: Men’s basketball’s up-and-down weekend deserves a deep dive

Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor

The Quinnipiac men’s basketball program certainly had a weekend to remember. How one remembers it is up to the individual. 

You could start on Friday, where the Bobcats beat their in-state rival Fairfield Stags on national television. M&T Bank Arena was sold out with a variety of giveaway opportunities for fans in attendance. 

“(The atmosphere was) different, it’s a culture that we’ve never seen before in my three years,” junior guard Luis Kortright said on Feb. 3. “To see the Bank like that, it was exciting and it made a lot of us want to play (well).” 

Playing in Quinnipiac’s first nationally-televised game of the season, that atmosphere that Kortright referred to was electric. Not just for the fans in attendance, but for the players, especially for graduate student forward Ike Nweke, who transferred from Columbia, where the attendance numbers were spotty. 

“It was amazing, you know, just being able to have our actual student body here and just being able to pack the whole arena,” Nweke said on Feb. 3. “That was an amazing feeling.” 

The Bobcats were able to run away against the Stags, nabbing a 66-51 victory in the first matchup of the year between the two teams. Quinnipiac had three players reach double figures (Nweke, Kortright and junior guard Dezi Jones), as a part of a 40-point second half. 

You could also view Quinnipiac’s weekend by how it ended. A monumental four-point loss to an 8-16 Mount St. Mary’s team that were heavy underdogs (+450) coming into Hamden. After pulling out to an early 15-2 lead, the Bobcats came out of the locker room flat, allowing the Mountaineers to pull off a 9-0 stretch to start the second half and take the lead. 

Graduate students Matt Balanc and Tyrese
Williams (5) have both eclipsed 1,000
career points. (Daniel Passapera)

The team got thrashed once again by an opposing guard–this time, it was Mountaineers senior guard Jalen Benjamin, who dropped 23 points in the winning effort. Despite having a terrific defensive unit from both the paint and perimeter, the Bobcats’ struggles defending guards have tormented them all season. 

“(Guards) can make really difficult shots,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said on Feb. 5. “Benjamin can give you trouble at all levels.” 

Sandwiched in between those games was a social media firestorm which included a now-deleted gameday post and an issued statement on that offensively-deemed graphic. 

“Regrettably, we at QU Athletics shared an image on social media to promote a men’s basketball game that never should have been posted,” wrote Greg Amodio, director of athletics, in a statement posted to both Twitter and Instagram. “It is our intention in these promotional images to highlight the hard work and grit of our student athletes. However, we realize now that this image is offensive. We are deeply sorry for our insensitivity. Through learning and reflection, we will do better.” 

The apology, which showed Kortright donning a chain prop around his shoulders next to a pregame promotion to the Fairfield game, quickly distracted the fanbase from the win the day prior. That distraction seemed to be (intentionally or not) drowned out by the official men’s basketball Twitter account, which tweeted 25 times during the Mount St. Mary’s game, an amount typically not reached during games. 

Despite the win, a slow start against the Stags and a dreadful ending against the Mountaineers showed that Quinnipiac, who went on a six-game win streak to kick off 2023, was mortal. 

Redshirt senior guard Matt Balanc was the team’s most valuable asset in both games. Balanc scored 19 points in the latter matchup, pushing his career total up to 1,000. He became the 45th player in Quinnipiac history (19th in the Division I era) to reach the plateau and the first since graduate student guard Tyrese Williams who did it just two months prior. 

“He’s brought consistency, toughness, leadership and all the intangibles that you want as a coach,” Dunleavy said on Feb. 5. “He’s a guy that has led us in scoring in the past, but also has the character and the competitive toughness to be defined by winning and doing things the right way. I’m really proud of him and glad we have him in our program.” 

The Maryland native also made headways online with a hyper-athletic block against the Stags that looked like something out of the professional leagues. The chasedown block just showcased something Dunleavy has praised all season: defense. 

Junior guard Luis Kortright is averaging 9.8
points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game. (Casey Wiederhold)

“You know, we were playing probably our worst version of ourselves offensively, but we also knew that we were doing some really good stuff defensively,” Dunleavy said on Feb. 3. “A lot of our defensive effort turned into transition offense, which created some easy baskets.” 

Despite the Bobcats playing good defense during the Fairfield win, that seemed to dwindle against Mount St. Mary’s. The hosts allowed 15 points off turnovers and let the Mountaineers shoot 73% from the field in the second half. 

On the horizon, the Bobcats now need to turn the page and prepare for a three-game road trip to New York for matchups with Niagara (8-5), Canisius (3-10) and Siena (9-4). With both the Purple Eagles and Saints toting in-conference records that either match or exceed Quinnipiac’s, the Bobcats certainly have their work cut out for them when it comes down to the eventual playoff seeding. 

Though the year has been a drastic 180 since last year’s last-place showing, the Bobcats have begun to even out toward the start of February. If winning the program’s first MAAC title is the goal (which it has been all year), the team needs to start performing at a more consistent level heading into Atlantic City. As of publication, Dunleavy’s squad sits fourth in the MAAC standings and with the top of the conference becoming more clear, Quinnipiac will need to right the ship – and focus on reaching those highs – to close out the schedule.