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The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Matt Balanc’s game winner lifts ‘magic’ Bobcats over Fairfield

Graduate+student+guard+Matt+Balanc+lays+the+ball+up+in+Quinnipiacs+win+over+Fairfield+on+Jan.+28%2C+2024.
Cameron Levasseur
Graduate student guard Matt Balanc lays the ball up in Quinnipiac’s win over Fairfield on Jan. 28, 2024.

FAIRFIELD — Quinnipiac men’s basketball hasn’t been this good since 1979. Seriously, it’s been over 40 years since the Bobcats started a season 16-4.

A postseason-type atmosphere in their 66-64 win over the Fairfield Stags Sunday afternoon just cemented Quinnipiac’s status as the conference kings .

“(When) you get on the road and find a way to win, it’s magic,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Pecora said. “We’ve been here, we know how to win these games. It’s not a new environment for us.”

In a marquee matchup between the conference’s top-two programs, the visiting Bobcats were able to get just enough shots to fall to clinch the win over their in-state rival. The final bucket — a layup from graduate guard Matt Balanc — gave Quinnipiac its eighth conference victory in a row.

“I trust a lot of dudes on my team to be able to hit the shot I just hit, and I trust myself as well,” Balanc said. “I put in the work and you just got to really trust yourself in that moment.”

Sunday’s game was a tale of two halves. The first was heavyweight punches being thrown back and forth. Both the Bobcats and Stags traded baskets and headed into the locker room with the hosts nursing a one-point lead.

To begin the second frame, Quinnipiac came out swinging. So much so that the Stags weren’t able to capitalize on the offensive end.

“We got a bunch of deflections, (but) got to finish a couple of those plays,” Fairfield head coach Chris Casey said. “There were too many of them that we didn’t finish … We’ll get better at that.”

The Bobcats were able to get strong defensively, limiting the Fairfield attack in the paint. While the game remained in striking distance, the visitors seemed to be pulling away.

That’s when Stags graduate guard Caleb Fields started to take over.

Numerous drives to the rim, along with a couple tough finishes, pulled Fairfield back ahead, albeit just by a point or two.

“Caleb made some good plays off that high-ball screen,” Casey said. “I think both sides have good guards, and both guards made plays.”

Though sophomore forward Amarri Tice left the game with a lower-body injury — Pecora said postgame it was a “mild ankle sprain” — the bench presence of redshirt senior forwards JJ Riggins and Richie Springs helped ease the blow.

“(Riggins) knows how to play the game of basketball, he’s as good a passer as we have on our team,” Pecora said. “He plays within himself … that’s why you can trust him.”

After a 12-2 stretch by the Stags, a massive three from Quinnipiac freshman guard Rihards Vavers tied the game up. That big shot eventually set the stage for Balanc’s game winner.

The shot? Just the finishing touch on a game that wasn’t Balanc’s best. He finished with 13 points and went 2/7 from beyond the arc.

After Balanc’s layup, the Stags pushed the ball, instead of opting for a timeout to regroup.

“I don’t know that if you call timeout and you give them a chance to guard, that you’re going to get a shot any better than that,” Casey said.

For the first time in program history, the Bobcats have gone a full calendar month without dropping a game, going 7-0 in January (min. three games).

“I’m just trying to win games,” Balanc said. “I’ve been in this league for a while, I’ve lost a lot of games and I don’t like losing anymore.”

Now the opportunity to continue their winning streak extends into February with a Friday night matchup against Manhattan. Tip-off against the Jaspers is scheduled for 7 p.m. 

The Bobcats’ next game will just be yet another opportunity for Pecora’s squad to show why they stand out.

“The resilience of this team, and the ability in close games … We don’t get rattled,” Pecora said. “We understand how to execute late and we’ve been lucky enough to make game-winning plays.”

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Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor
Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

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