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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

Matt Balanc and Savion Lewis know the end is near. They’re running toward it.

Photos by Peyton Mckenzie/Photoillustration by Cameron Levasseur


Matt Balanc is in disbelief. 

The star Quinnipiac men’s basketball player stands on the court at M&T Bank Arena during a late February practice. Head coach Tom Pecora is reminding his team of the reality of their situation. It’s crunch time. The Bobcats — who sit first in the MAAC — have just a handful of games left on their schedule. A nationally televised matchup with Fairfield is just days away. The postseason looms. 

“We’ve got six practices left,” Pecora says. 

“I was like, ‘I have six college practices left?’”

Talking to fellow guard Savion Lewis, he realizes Pecora actually said 16. 

“I don’t know where my mind was,” Balanc says. “I was like, ‘oh that’s a little more vigorous.’”

A little more, but not much. Whether it’s six or 16, there’s no avoiding the fact that Balanc and Lewis are in the final stage of their college basketball careers. They first stepped on Quinnipiac’s campus in 2018. Six years later, they’re still here. 

“I knew them both as young men and now I know them as middle aged men,” Pecora jokes in a MAAC Insider interview with John Fanta. 

The clock is ticking. A redshirt year and an extra season granted by COVID-19 gave them more time than most, but even Balanc and Lewis can’t escape the reality of college sports. The end was always in sight. Now it’s crystal clear. 

Quinnipiac dropped that game against Fairfield, then the three that followed. But two resounding wins against Iona and Siena gave the Bobcats their mojo back heading into the conference tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In six days, the pair will step onto the court in the historic Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall for the conference quarterfinals.

That game could be their last. 

“Matt and I talked about that actually yesterday,” Lewis said. “We’re just going to pour it all out and see what happens. Obviously the goal is to win the whole thing, but we can’t control everything. We can control how much work we put into it, and if this is our last, then we’re going to give it our all.”

And it’s evident where they hope that effort will lead them. 

“We want that championship,” Balanc said.

Graduate student guard Matt Balanc rises for a layup in a 66-64 win at Fairfield on Jan. 28. (Cameron Levasseur)


As freshman Rihards Vavers drives to the basket, Fairfield’s Jalen Leach rips the ball from his grip. He sprints down court. A basket would give the Stags their first lead in a tightly contested second half between the top-two teams in the MAAC in their first meeting in January. But here comes Balanc, head down, shot out of a cannon hunting for the ball. 

The sixth year rises from the MAAC logo, arm outstretched like LeBron in the 2016 NBA Finals. He slaps the backboard. Leach dunks on his head, and one. Fairfield leads. 

Not 15 seconds later, sophomore forward Ammari Tice hits a cutting Balanc for a slam to even the score both mentally and physically. 

“We had to get even and try to get him a dunk at the other end,” Pecora says.

But Fairfield retakes the lead. So cutting baseline again, Balanc floats in a shot while falling away to tie things up. 

The ball is back in his hands with six seconds on the clock. He drives right, avoiding a steal but pinning the ball to his hip in the process. Balanc rises anyways, scooping the ball from an impossible angle to lay it in and win the game.  

Walking off the court, he puts one finger to his mouth to silence the Fairfield crowd. It’s Quinnipiac’s eighth-straight win. The Bobcats sit atop the MAAC and are in the midst of their best start since the 1970s. 

In the media room, Pecora passes the mic to his star. 

“Talk to him, not me,” the Bobcats’ first-year head coach says. “He had a bigger impact on the last two minutes than I did.” 

Balanc handles a dozen questions with the poise of a seasoned vet. One reporter attempts to put the game on a pedestal. He has no part of it. 

“To be honest with you, (it means) nothing more than any other game,” Balanc says. “I’ve been in this league a while. I’ve lost a lot of games and I don’t like losing anymore.”

In five years, Balanc has won just two games in the MAAC Tournament, both in 2022, when the No. 11 Bobcats upset Marist and Siena before falling to Elite Eight-bound St. Peter’s in the semifinals. 

In 2019, it was Monmouth in the quarterfinals. In 2020, COVID played spoiler. In 2021, Iona ended any hope in the first round. In 2023, Marist delivered the upset blow in the quarterfinals. 

Again and again, Balanc enters the conference tournament with hope and leaves with a gut punch. The disappointment leaves scars. But those scars shaped him into the player he is today. 

The one who plays like a car with a brick on the gas pedal. 

The one who Pecora says “plays as hard as anyone I’ve coached.”

It wasn’t always like that. On an AAU team in middle school, Balanc wasn’t playing. In his own words, he just “wasn’t that good at basketball.” It wouldn’t be until his sophomore or junior year of high school that he put himself on the recruiting map. What he did have was speed — it just took a nudge for him to utilize it. 

“My dad was like, ‘listen, you’re probably not going to get into games a lot, you’re not one of the best players, but you might be the fastest dude on the team, win every sprint,’” Balanc said. “So every time we ran in practice, anytime we did anything, I’d try and win the sprint … and it just carried over (and I) kind of tried to compete in everything.”

That competitive fire accompanied him to Quinnipiac but sputtered out when he was a redshirt sophomore. His minutes dropped from 22 to 14 per game. His scoring sank from a 7.3 per game average to just 3.9. 

“I was having a bad year, and I wasn’t playing a lot,” Balanc said. “In those moments, you can go outwards and say ‘oh, he’s messing me up, coach ain’t playing me,’ this and that. Or you can go inwards and say, ‘listen, I don’t want to experience this anymore. I want to change what my experience is here.’”

A day after the Bobcats 24-point loss to Iona in the conference tournament, Pecora, then an assistant coach, walked into the arena early. Balanc was on the court, mid-workout. 

“He changed his body in that offseason,” Pecora says. “He totally committed to being a college basketball player, and since that point on it’s only gotten better.”

That transformation began with Lewis. 

“(The) first conversation I had with anybody was with (Savion),” Balanc said. “I said, ‘listen, I don’t want next year to be the same as this year. I want to play next year. I want to be one of the best players on the team,’ and I locked in.”

Three years later, he’s an all All-MAAC Second-Teamer, with a first team nod likely this season. He’s second in the conference in scoring, seventh in minutes and on the verge of becoming Quinnipiac’s Division I all-time leading scorer. The fire that consumed Balanc in that offseason is still burning, and it won’t be extinguished any time soon. 

“He’s going to try to make sure that he takes your head off,” Lewis said. “And he does that in everything he’s doing. Whether it’s running, whether it’s lifting, whether it’s one-on-one, whether it’s shooting competitions. I just love his competitiveness.”

Graduate student guard Savion Lewis watches practice from the bench during his recovery from a torn achilles in 2022. (Quinnipiac Athletics)


Lewis didn’t think he would ever return to the player he was before. 

The player who won New York’s Mr. Basketball as a senior in high school. Who came into Quinnipiac with a work ethic described as an “addiction.” Who started 20 games as a redshirt sophomore and scored a career-high 18 points in his ninth game as a junior, only to blow out his achilles in the dying moments of that same game. 

Lewis was playing at the highest level of his career, and then suddenly had it all ripped away. A surgery, an arduous rehab and 11 months later, he was back on the court. But things weren’t the same. 

He came off the bench in almost every game. His minutes were nowhere near where they were a year prior. The explosiveness and speed that defined his play style had been tamed. 

“I used to feel like I had just played five games in a row after just one practice because my body was still catching up,” Lewis said. 

He favored his right knee to remove stress from the injured achilles. That led to another surgery. It took his own faith — and the faith of those around him — to get him through. 

“I wasn’t alone, even when I felt alone,” Lewis said. “There were people around me, Matt was helping me at all times. My coaches, everyone was making sure that I was fine. So it never really felt like a lonely walk, but at times I did sometimes lose faith and I didn’t know what was next for me.”

At the conclusion of the 2022-23 season, Lewis had played in just 58 of 115 games in the last four years. But he stayed the course, believed in his work ethic and chose to return for a sixth year — a decision as much for the team as it was himself. 

“(Quinnipiac) gave me my first opportunity and I personally feel like I never got to give this school what I can give,” Lewis said. “I’ve been hurt, had a lot of injuries. We never won. It’s almost like something’s unfinished here. And I feel like that’s the reason I never really wanted to leave. Just because there’s unfinished business.”

With that in mind, the 23-year-old has taken his game to another level this season. He’s played in a career-high 31 games, averaging a career-high 29 minutes. His 7.3 assists per game puts him fourth in the nation. He broke Quinnipiac’s single-season assist record last week with games to spare. 

Lewis is a captain and the primary ball handler on a conference-leading team on the verge of making school history. His business is almost finished. 

Graduate student guard Matt Balanc attempts a reverse layup against Saint Peter’s in the 2022 MAAC Semifinals. (Connor Lawless)


Hamden has seen March before.

On the women’s side, Tricia Fabbri’s squad has five NCAA Tournament appearances, all in the last dozen years. The Bobcats advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2017, becoming America’s darling with upset wins over fifth-seeded Marquette and fourth-seeded Miami. 

But no Quinnipiac men’s team has ever crossed that threshold and joined the field of 68 on the third Sunday of the third month. One had a chance in 2010, but a half court heave fell short at the buzzer and Robert Morris won the NEC Championship on the Bobcats’ home court. Quinnipiac hasn’t been to a conference title game since. 2024 is the chance it’s been looking for. It’s also the last chance for Balanc and Lewis. 

“We feel like we’ve been here long enough, we’ve put in the work,” Balanc said. “Why can’t we be the ones to bring a team that deserves to win a championship, go to that championship and play in the NCAA (Tournament)?”

There are — in some ways — similarities between the Bobcats and that 2022 Saint Peter’s team. Both have shifty guards not afraid to attack the basket and the green light to shoot out of a double team. Both have New York-born forwards who dare opponents to jump with them, complemented by foreign counterparts that act as magnets to the ball around the rim. Both have spark plugs off the bench and fan favorites built for March.

Many on this team saw firsthand the havoc wreaked by a MAAC team on a hot streak. Quinnipiac led the Peacocks at the half of that conference semifinal game. It could have been them battling with Kentucky, Murray State, Purdue and North Carolina. 

“Sometimes I feel like we were supposed to lose. Sometimes I feel like we were supposed to win,” Balanc said. “Everything happens for a reason. And I think Saint Peter’s doing that allowed us to see that what they did can be done.”

Nearly every NCAA Tournament projection has this year’s MAAC-leading Bobcats in the fray. It still could be them. 

“I think our team right now is better than that Saint Peter’s team,” Balanc said. “I feel we can do that ourselves if we put in the work and we understand that we can’t look ahead too far, we have to understand that it’s every moment, one at a time.”

It’s not just Balanc and Lewis. One through 14, Quinnipiac’s roster understands the recipe for success. 

“A lot of problems with most teams that are talented and really good is that you have a lot of pride,” Lewis said. “With this team we have 15 guys that genuinely love each other, love playing for each other and have one common goal, and that’s to win.”

But leading the charge are the two sixth years that have almost been in Hamden longer than their head coach. 

One is a human firecracker who carries a swagger that can’t be broken. That keeps getting dunked on, but gets right back up. 

The other is a floor general with an unmatched savvy dishing the ball. That had some of his speed and some of his bounce stolen by freak injuries, but sees the game better as a result.

Their journeys have been unquestionably different. The end will be the same, and it grows closer by the hour. 

How close? That’s up to them. 

In a sport where the postseason is defined by its madness, and where a team from their conference quite recently went mad, they’ve learned that anything is possible. 

The finish line is hiding around a corner. That reality still hasn’t fully sunk in. There’s only one thing on their minds, and Balanc leans forward in his chair to reiterate that point. 

“You can win as many games as you want, you can win all the accolades, but none of those mean anything if you go home with a loss at the end of the season. We want that championship.”

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About the Contributors
Cameron Levasseur
Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor
Connor Lawless
Connor Lawless, Creative Director

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