Dezi Jones, Alexis Reyes set career-highs in Quinnipiac’s 2OT thriller


Kaya Donah

Dezi Jones, Alexis Reyes and Tyrese Williams combined for 51 of Quinnipiac’s 90 points Sunday.

Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor

HAMDEN, Conn – In this season’s penultimate home game for the Quinnipiac men’s basketball program, the Bobcats were able to knock off the MAAC’s second-seeded Rider Broncs 90-88 in double overtime Sunday afternoon in a contender for game of the year.

Pre-game, redshirt senior guard Matt Balanc was honored for reaching the historic 1,000 career point mark earlier this season. The Maryland native had another big game today, as his 17 points and 11 rebounds were good to propel the Bobcats to their second-straight win and 19th overall. 

It started off picture-perfect for the Bobcats. With the help of Rider head coach Kevin Baggett getting called for a technical foul, the hosts were able to get out to an early 10-4 lead in the first half. Like many games as of late, junior guards Luis Kortright and Dezi Jones both took control of the offense.

Jones was the Bobcats’ primary ball-handler for most of the afternoon. He stuffed the stat sheet, dropping a career-high 28 points and was solid shooting the ball from behind the arc (4-for-7).

“28 points didn’t really come easy,” Jones said. “Teammates definitely helped me get to that … It’s a big win for us.”

Rider’s top scorer, senior guard Dwight Murray Jr., returned to the court after missing the teams’ first matchup with a concussion. Murray Jr. led the Broncs with 17 points and added 12 rebounds in a team-high 48 minutes. 

With under eight minutes left in the first half, the Broncs came out of the media timeout with a fire lit beneath them. Lockdown interior defense along with several questionable foul calls helped Rider climb back to even the game up at 26 apiece.

Right out of the locker room, Quinnipiac’s second-half lulls, which have become more consistent throughout February, continued. Missed free throws and slow transition defense allowed the Broncs to build their lead – aided by a 14-3 run – up to double-digits just four minutes in.

“It’s been a theme this season,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said. “We’ve given away some leads this year, it was nice to go get one back.”

Around the 10-minute mark, something on the Bobcats’ sideline seemed to click. They began to hit their free throws at a perfect clip, along with suffocating perimeter pressure. In just a span of three minutes, Quinnipiac was able to cut the lead from 14 to six.

With just over two minutes left in regulation, the momentum completely switches sides. Junior forward J.J. Riggins drew a charge (he would exit the game after slowly getting to his feet) and both Jones and graduate student guard Tyrese Williams nailed shots to bring the score to 65-64.

“(Riggins) is just a winner, he’s got no agenda,” Dunleavy said. “He just wants to be on the court and help us win … He got an injury, so we had to take him out.”

Sophomore guard Alexis Reyes then became the star of the show, bringing the crowd to its feet after drilling a three-pointer and drawing the foul. The ensuing free throw gave the Bobcats a lead and after another minute of tense basketball, we headed to overtime at 71.

“That felt good,” Reyes said. “It was just one of those moments where I had to hit a big-time shot.”

The East Carolina transfer set career-bests in every statistical category and his 12 points off the bench changed the trajectory of this game.

In overtime, Jones took matters into his own hands. He drilled a ranging three and grabbed a rebound on the defensive glass. He then drove into the lane and got the bucket to fall, all while getting fouled. Jones made the free throw and another Broncs basket, the period was down to its last shot.

After a Jones layup was waved off for a travel with 2.9 seconds left, we then headed to a second overtime – evened up at 79. 

The second extra frame began with a big bucket from junior forward Paul Otieno, who was quiet all game. This was immediately countered by Rider junior forward Nehemiah Benson on the other side. Both sides exchanged baskets and Quinnipiac continued to maintain a two-point lead.

“Those guys who may not be heralded in the box score really changed the game,” Dunleavy said.

That is until Otieno slammed home a dunk that gave the Bobcats a brief lead. Quickly after, with 1:14 left in the second overtime, the Broncs got a huge long-range bucket from senior guard Allen Betrand that forced Dunleavy to take a timeout. 

Quinnipiac had to take another timeout after the Rider defense pressured both Reyes and Balanc deep in the backcourt. On the ensuing possession, Jones spun into a foul, and made his second free throw to give the Bobcats the lead. 

Rider then broke its own heart after missing three potential game-winning shots in the paint. The loose ball fell to Balanc, who iced the game for the win. 

The Bobcats move to 6-0 on the season in games that they reach the 80-point mark and are now in prime position for a first-round bye in the upcoming MAAC Tournament.

“Just coming together and not giving up,” Jones said about how the team can use this game at motivation. “Keep fighting. Stay the course.”

Quinnipiac will now turn its attention to Manhattan, as the Bobcats look to reach the 20-win plateau for the first time since the 2013-14 season and first in the Dunleavy era. Tip-off is scheduled for Feb. 26 at 2 p.m.