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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 struggles in final game, Quinnipiac men’s basketball drops CBI opener to Evansville

Peyton McKenzie
Graduate student guard Matt Balanc drives to the rim against Fairfield on Feb. 23, 2024.

Quinnipiac men’s basketball fell to Evansville 64-63 in the opening round of the College Basketball Invitational Sunday evening, in what was the final game of the collegiate careers of graduate student guards Matt Balanc and (potentially) Savion Lewis.

The tournament’s third seed — who came into tonight with a program-record 24 wins — were unable to grab their first-ever non-conference postseason victory. The Bobcats fell to 0-6 all-time in tournaments, with Sunday’s loss being the first since dropping an opening round matchup to NJIT in the 2019 CIT.

So how did No. 11 Evansville pull off the upset?

“Just being ball tough,” Evansville head coach David Ragland said on the FloHoops broadcast. “(The Bobcats) speed you up, they turn teams over. We just had to catch the ball and take a deep breath, play off our pivots and get to the next play. So we did a better job down the stretch.”

It certainly helped that junior guard Tanner Cuff played a big role on both sides of the floor. The former Salt Lake Community College star racked up 10 points (one of four Purple Aces in double-digits), nine rebounds and five assists. 

It was a game of runs, some good and some bad for the Bobcats. The first half was sloppy, as both Balanc and Lewis opened the game with air balls. The Purple Aces were able to rush out to a slim 6-2 lead at the first media timeout. Just minutes later, Quinnipiac roared ahead on the backs of junior forward Alexis Reyes (10 points, nine rebounds) and junior guard Doug Young (12 points).

Coming out of the locker rooms to begin the second half, the Bobcats kept their feet on the gas. Senior forward Paul Otieno (16 points, eight rebounds) took control of the paint, helping alleviate the struggles from his backcourt. In the process, this year’s Quinnipiac team set the single-season program record for points scored (2,630).

Halfway through the final frame however, Evansville started to build a convincing lead. It ballooned up to 10 points, as the underdog Purple Aces got key buckets from fifth-year guards Gage Bobe and Kenny Strawbridge Jr.

“You just got to find a way … that’s what we did,” Ragland said. “We just found a way, guys stepped up … We tell our guys, ‘find a way to be one point better after 40 minutes,’ and we did.”

The final minutes encapsulated the entire night. A big triple from Evansville gave it a two-possession lead, yet a circus shot from Balanc — who finished his career just eight points shy of the Quinnipiac program record — and a layup from Otieno forced Ragland to call a timeout.

After the stoppage, the Bobcats’ defense was outstanding. When they were forced to foul, Strawbridge Jr. hit both his free throws to get the lead back up to 64-60. 

On the ensuing inbound, Young collided with a teammate, Balanc took too long to find an open shot and Young eventually hit a buzzer beater three. Too little, too late. 

What was a historic Quinnipiac season just fell a few seconds too short. For the Purple Aces, they will continue to play in the CBI, despite a lack of senior forward Yacine Toumi, who was spotted warming up, but didn’t play a minute.

“Our players, they believe in us, they fight like crazy and we just have really good energy,” Ragland said. “Everybody’s playing and being there for each other.”

The Purple Aces now advance to tomorrow’s quarterfinals against the Seattle Redhawks, who came off a 13-point win over Delaware State Saturday night. 

“We watched them yesterday,” Ragland said. “They’re similar to tonight, they have three guards that are prolific scorers. … So it’s gonna be another dogfight tomorrow.”

With Balanc no longer there, and Lewis — who scored just two points in the losing effort — needing an injury waiver approved for a potential seventh season, the Bobcats will now look ahead to the 2024-25 campaign. 

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Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

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