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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Thursday win over Mount St. Mary’s moves Bobcats into sole possession of first place

Casey Nedelka
Graduate student guard Savion Lewis dribbles the ball against Mount St. Mary’s on Jan. 25, 2024.

HAMDEN — The pregame four-point spread was a disservice to the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team. After getting out to the best start to a season in 40 years, the Bobcats improved to 15-4 and slid into first place in the MAAC after their 79-65 win over Mount St. Mary’s Thursday.

The Bobcats — paced by graduate student guards Matt Balanc (18 points) and Savion Lewis (11 points) — were able to use a 39-point second half to break away from the Mountaineers

“We were able to close it out,” Balanc said. “Good teams are able to close out games and keep that lead. That’s something that our team was able to do in the second half.”

The momentum that the hosts took into the locker room was helped by a six-point swing from Lewis. Multiple strong drives to the rim from the Bobcats’ point guard gave his team a five-point lead at half.

“He’s an extremely hard to guard player,” Balanc said. “He’s got a great change of pace. He has the ability to pass extremely well … He’s a threat offensively.”

Unlike the Bobcats’ last win over Iona — where they only used seven players — 11 players got into the rotation against the Mountaineers. This includes freshman forward Daemar Kelly, who hadn’t gotten many minutes on the floor in his first collegiate season. 

“That stretch there with Daemar Kelly, (redshirt senior forward) JJ Riggins and (graduate student forward) Richie Springs, (they) all had spurts where they played really well,” head coach Tom Pecora said. “That’s how you can build your bench and we’re going to need it.”

It was also a physically enduring game for both sides. Bobcats sophomore forward Amarri Tice was shaken up — both for getting smacked in the face and later slamming hard into the media table. Mountaineers junior forward Jedy Cordilia left briefly after vomiting near his own bench, though he would later return.

“It’s a tough game, they’re coming after you,” Balanc said. “(Tice’s) one of our best defensive players, he’s probably one of our biggest hustle players.”

Freshman guard Rihards Vavers, despite suiting up for his first game in over a month, was relegated to the bench for most of the night. The Latvia native has been out since Dec. 8 with a knee bruise suffered in practice and played just seven minutes tonight.

“We’re a lot better when he’s not hurt,” assistant coach Bradley Jacks said. “Confidence is huge, being able to play in big games, tight games.”

Vavers did add two triples off the bench, something Balanc said will help them once he gets back to 100% health. In his absence, the Bobcats got three-pointers from junior guards Doug Young and Alexis Reyes.

“We gave the hats and gloves out to the guys who came off the bench,” Pecora said. “Reyes went and got six rebounds in the second half, (senior forward) Paul Otieno’s always playing hard.”

A brief glance at the scoreboard and the win looks a lot more dominant than it was. But that’s how Quinnipiac has made its bread and butter in 2023-24: winning grimy basketball games and using strong second halves to suffocate teams into submission. 

The Bobcats will now have a two-day break before heading down the road to face off against the Fairfield Stags. Tip-off between the Connecticut rivals (and top two teams in the MAAC) is set for 2 p.m.Jan. 25, 2024. 

“Credit to (Fairfield), they’re having one heck of a year,” Jacks said. “Our defense was really good in the second half. We got to make sure that carries over to Sunday.”

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