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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Men’s basketball continues critical losing skid in front of national audience

Graduate+student+guard+Matt+Balanc+looks+on+during+Quinnipiacs+85-81+loss+to+Fairfield+Friday+night.
Peyton McKenzie
Graduate student guard Matt Balanc looks on during Quinnipiac’s 85-81 loss to Fairfield Friday night.

HAMDEN — Matt Balanc stopped right in his tracks, right as head coach Tom Pecora sighed from the sideline. Both appeared exhausted, one physically and one mentally.

The graduate student guard — who had shot the lights out all night — sailed a pass out of bounds mid-transition. The Bobcats, reeling from a few tough defensive paint battles, had to trudge back to play defense. They were gassed, and it was evident.

It was right then and there that the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team lost to Fairfield Friday night. The 85-81 final score was closer than the end of the second half had shown, as the visiting Stags took another step closer to the top of the MAAC standings. 

On the other hand, the Bobcats took another step back amid a brutal, three-game losing streak that feels like a different basketball team from two weeks prior.

“We got to play with greater physicality, and we got to stop settling for jump shots instead of taking the ball to the hole,” Pecora said. “There’s always something to work on.”

The major takeaway was the free throw discrepancy. The officiating wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination — Pecora said he had “great respect” for the referees — but the struggle to get any opportunities from the line hindered the Bobcats’ offensive efficiency.

Quinnipiac went to the line a season-low six times, many of those coming in the late stages of the second half. Was it the stingy Stags defense that locked up the Bobcats on the perimeter, or did the hosts not do enough offensively?

“We became a little too finesse driven,” Pecora said. “We’re not playing as physical and nasty as we need to be.”

It was – on paper – a golden night for the Bobcats, who came into the game leading the conference at 19-6 overall. Toss in a sellout crowd and a national audience (for only the second time all year) and it felt like a perfect night for Pecora’s squad to snap a two-game skid. 

Yet Balanc struggled to maintain possession a number of times down the stretch, as did junior guard Doug Young, who had four turnovers. Both guards shot the ball well, especially in a first half that saw the Connecticut rivals combine for 14 made threes. 

Fairfield was just too much, which was led in part by the backcourt duo of senior Jalen Leach (27 points, six rebounds) and graduate student Caleb Fields (19 points, five assists). 

“The ability for them to get shots … is what’s challenging,” Pecora said. “They do a good job of letting guys run their shot.”

The Bobcats dropped the conference opener on Dec. 1 to Canisius, and later went on a 10-game win streak that was near the top for the country. Since then, three-straight losses put the once-comfortable, first place Quinnipiac into uncomfortable territory. 

“I don’t think it’s the mindset of losing as much as I think it’s fatigue,” Pecora said. “I always go back to veteran leadership … Tonight wasn’t a stellar night for those guys.”

Pecora was right. The captaincy trio of Balanc, graduate student guard Savion Lewis and senior forward Paul Otieno were not at their best. Sure, Balanc paced the Bobcats with 23 points, but his five giveaways — along with some hesitancy from Lewis on offense — really limited any opportunity for a late-stage comeback. 

The ability for Fairfield to distribute the ball effectively wore Quinnipiac down. Six different Stags found themselves in double figures, and their 50% three-point shooting led Pecora to call it an NBA-style offensive game.

There were some bright spots, including a circus-like triple from sophomore forward Amarri Tice to close out the first half. They were just too few and far between for the Bobcats to really contend late in regulation.

Now, with a 3.5-game lead dwindled down to just half a game, the defensive intensity needs to be picked up, and fast.

“We talked about extending our defense, being up and into guys, but we weren’t able to do that early on,” Pecora said. “It’s easy to say we’re going to do something and then you got to go out and do it.”

The postseason atmosphere in Hamden Friday night will have been an important prequel. Big road games at 11-16 Rider (8-8 MAAC) and 13-13 Iona (8-7 MAAC) may provide what the doctor ordered for the skidding Bobcats. 

Or it could send them down into a deeper spiral. 

“It’s not what happens, it’s how you handle what happens,” Pecora said. “We’re ready to come in here tomorrow and bust our ass and work hard.”

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Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

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