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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

As MAAC Tournament looms, men’s basketball looking to hit the jackpot in Atlantic City

Cameron Levasseur
Sophomore forward Amarri Tice dunks the ball against Rider on Feb. 25.

 For Quinnipiac men’s basketball, a lot of things have never happened. 

The Bobcats have never won a share of the MAAC regular season title, they haven’t hoisted a conference trophy and they sure haven’t gone dancing into the NCAA Tournament. 

But with two games remaining until the conference tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Bobcats — who currently sit at 13-5 in conference play and 21-8 overall — know what’s at stake. 

“I’m not afraid of setting high goals and I talk to these guys about that all the time,” head coach Tom Pecora said. “All we’ve ever talked about is (a) one-game winning streak. Let’s go win the next one. … If you look past your next opponent, now you just set yourself up for failure.” 

There’s been many versions of this Bobcats team this season. A 10-game winning streak skyrocketed Pecora’s squad into national headlines as one of the premier mid-major programs. A four-game losing skid saw them drop in the MAAC standings — albeit for less than half a week — and questions began to arise. 

Since then, Quinnipiac has rattled off two wins at Iona and against Siena — convincing ones at that — and is en route to the program’s first-ever MAAC regular season title and No. 1 seed heading into the thick of March. 

“The whole idea was to not let the team lose confidence,” graduate student guard Savion Lewis said. “The losing streak that we had was definitely a great humbling experience and it allowed us to figure out what we need to work on.” 

Lewis, who just recently broke a 31-year-old program record for total assists in a season, knows what this team’s capable of. So does fellow graduate student guard Matt Balanc, who is making a final run at a championship — “I’m done,” he said after senior day. 

“We practice the same way, we lift the same way, we do treatment the same way,” Balanc said on Jan. 28. “It’s the will to get better. If you can get better in every situation, you’re going find a way to win.” 

It isn’t just the veteran backcourt though. Senior forward Paul Otieno, junior forward Alexis Reyes and sophomore forward Amarri Tice have all had their chances to shine collectively and as individuals.

Junior forward Alexis Reyes celebrates a three-pointer against Fairfield on Feb. 23. (Peyton McKenzie)

That’s going to be the key for this upcoming postseason run. Not that one specific player can score over 20 points, but the opportunity that anyone in the starting lineup could. 

“Savion Lewis, Matt Balanc, Otieno, they’ve been together for a while,” Iona head coach Tobin Anderson said on March 1. “They’ve had success together.” 

The fluidity of the offense has found a rhythm, with the Bobcats scoring a combined 153 points in the wins over the Gaels and Saints. On the other end of the floor, the determined defense, especially from Tice and junior guard Doug Young, has given Quinnipiac a grit and toughness it didn’t have at this time a year ago. 

Young is usually the first off the bench, but he’s hardly the only one racking up big minutes. 

Redshirt senior forwards Richie Springs and JJ Riggins have logged valuable minutes in reserve, and freshman forward Rihards Vavers (averaging 8.4 points per game) has allowed the Bobcats to mix and match their offensive lineups at ease. 

“They put in work every day … they get shots up in practice,” Balanc said. “They go hard, they do the scouting practice. They may not always get the playing time on the court, but they’re invested, they’re bought in and when those dudes get to play and have a chance, it’s good to watch them succeed.” 

Last year’s tournament hopes — where the three-seeded Bobcats fell in a blowout upset to No. 11 Marist — ended abruptly. This year, those hopes extend all the way though March. 

Quinnipiac has won 21 times this season, only the 11th time in program history it has surpassed the illustrious 20-win mark. With a home matchup against the aforementioned Red Foxes (March 7) and Saint Peter’s (March 9) to end the regular season, the Bobcats have two final opportunities to showcase themselves as the cream of the MAAC crop. 

“We’re still making this school a basketball school,” Lewis said. “Hopefully we have success in the playoffs (and) in the tournament.” 

While their final record and tournament seeding are yet to be determined, the Bobcats do have a rough idea of how their postseason schedule will look. They have clinched a top-four seed and a first-round bye, meaning they won’t play their first game in Atlantic City until at least 6:30 p.m. on March 13. 

Until then, the Bobcats will continue to take it day-by-day until their goal — which has been the goal since the new head coach took over last April — is fulfilled. 

“Our goal right from the beginning of the season has been to win a championship, to win the MAAC Championship and then go on and … play in the NCAA Tournament,” Pecora said. “I knew at the beginning of the year, it was realistic for this group of guys.” 

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About the Contributors
Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director
Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

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