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‘Cats pouncing back from mistakes
At the beginning of the season, the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team was picked by many to win the NEC tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. However, as the season has progressed, the team has not lived up to its lofty expectations.
While most students were home for winter break, the Bobcats were on campus working hard to turn around their season. After a 2-5 start, changes needed to be made in the line-up and some players needed to step up to the table.
The Bobcats played a top division 1 basketball program when the team traveled to South Bend Indiana to face Notre Dame on December 23. The Fighting Irish were not hospitable in the first ever meeting between the two schools. They handed the Bobcats their third consecutive loss at the time. The lone highlight of the game was Kason Mims. The senior guard scored 23 points, grabbed seven boards and dished six assists in 40 minutes of action. The Bobcats fell by 17 points, 79-62.
After an opening schedule which saw the Bobcats exclusively on the road, the team returned home Burt Kahn Court to host Northern Arizona on December 30. This was the home opener for the Bobcats. However, the Lumberjacks did not let the cross-country travel affect them. Northern Arizona scored the first ten points of the game and led by as many as 14. The Bobcats kept their heads up and chipped away at the lead, trimming it to 11 at the half. After the intermission, the Bobcats continued to look sluggish, but finally mounted a 21-7 run to close within one point, 56-55, with just under seven minutes remaining in the game. Feeling a sense of urgency, NAU went on a 12-2 run. The Bobcats continued to chip away, but were unable to get closer than 9 and lost by that margin, 79-70. The Bobcats had many solid efforts, but none bigger than C.J. Vick’s career-high performance of 21 points and 18 rebounds. This was Quinnipiac’s thirteenth home opening loss in 53 years.
After the New Year, the Bobcats looked to start fresh. There was no better opportunity than their first ever appearance in Madison Square Garden. Quinnipiac played in the Dreyfus Big Saturday Tournament. They opened the tourney with their game against St. Francis (NY). The Terriers ruined the Bobcats first ever visit to the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” by defeating the Bobcats 74-69.
After the disappointing performance at MSG, the Bobcats did not have to wait long to get back on the court. Just two days later, division two Manhattanville came to Burt Kahn to face Quinnipiac. The hosts did not take kindly to their guests, as the Bobcats recorded their largest margin of victory since 1975, defeating Manhattanville 94-57. Senior Rashaun Banjo of Far Rockaway, New York, scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Bobcats. Freshman Van Crafton of Hanover, Indiana, netted a career high 24 points, and junior guard Rob Monroe, of Landover, Maryland, dished out a career high 13 assists as Quinnipiac was able to snap its five game losing streak and improve to 3-8 on the season.
Five days later, the men hosted Mount St. Mary’s. As inspiring as their previous victory was, the Bobcats were unable to carry any momentum into this contest. Monroe had another big game, scoring 24 points, but it was not enough as the Mountaineers pulled out an 83-72 victory. Landy Thompson led all scorers with 35 points to guide Mount St. Mary’s to a victory. Both teams came out of the game with 3-9 records, respectively.
January 14 provided the Bobcats with a great opportunity. They faced Dartmouth, a team they had defeated earlier in the season, and the game was televised on NESN, a widely viewed New England Sports channel. The men responded by beating Dartmouth 69-60. Banjo scored 24 points to lead the Bobcats, but the real star was junior C.J Vick, who notched his fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Two days later, Quinnipiac traveled to Brooklyn to face Long Island University. The Blackbirds were not kind hosts though, as they handed the ‘Cats yet another loss, 81-78. Monroe continued his consistent play, scoring 14 of his game high 22 points in the second half. Banjo added a double-double, 16 points 15 boards and Crafton, Mims and Vick each scored in double figures. However, these efforts were all for naught, as the Bobcats were unable to get defensive stops when they needed them. The loss dropped the team’s record to 4-10.
The Bobcats returned home after the game for a three game home stand, hoping to change the course of the season. On January 21, Quinnipiac hosted league leading Sacred Heart. Though the records indicated a mismatch, this was not the case. The Bobcats came out firing and never looked back. They led by as many as 33 points and shot an outstanding 51 percent from the field. Seniors Banjo, 16 points 12 rebounds and Mims, 10 points 11 assists, each recorded double-doubles to lead the ‘Cats. Crafton set a new school record by knocking down eight three pointers in one game. Jared Grasso set the previous record of 7, in a game versus Dartmouth on December 11, 1999.
Three days later the Bobcats hosted Monmouth. Once again, they stepped up to the challenge of hosting an NEC leader. Quinnipiac held the lead going into the half and then extended it to as many as 17 points in the second half. Mims was just one assist shy of his first career triple-double. He scored 10 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out nine assists to lead the Bobcats to the 75-63 victory. Junior Pierre Faye of Dakar, Senegal, enjoyed the best game of his short QU career, scoring 10 points, to go with six rebounds and three blocks. Tough defense was again the key to victory as the Bobcats held the Hawks to just 30 percent shooting for the game. The victory pushed QU to a 6-10 record, and a 2-3 mark in NEC play.
Quinnipiac looked to finish their home stand with a 3-0 mark as they faced a tough opponent in Fairleigh Dickinson. In a back and forth game that went to overtime, the Bobcats were unable to get a basket when they needed it most. Trailing 84-81 with just seconds remaining in overtime, Mims and sophomore Craig Benson of Hamden, Connecticut, each were unable to hit the clutch shot. Despite the tough loss, there were bright spots for QU. Vick scored 23 points and added nine rebounds, Mims had 21 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and Monroe scored 15 points, tallied five rebounds and distributed five assists. With that performance, Monroe became the thirtieth QU player to score 1000 points. He did so in just 71 games, the quickest ever in Bobcat/Brave history.
The Bobcat’s had their next game circled on the calendar since the 2003-04 schedule was announced. This is because they were facing archrival, Central Connecticut State University. Always a tough, emotion filled game, the Bobcats were prepared mentally and physically. The first half was a back and forth battle that saw Quinnipiac leading 38-36 as it came to a close. This did not deter the Blue Devils though. They played a better second half and were leading by seven with :51 to play. Quinnipiac was able to cut the lead to four with just :10 to go. It looked bleak for the Bobcats, but this is when the heroics began. Mims hit a lay-up with :04 to go to pull the Bobcats within two points. After an erratic inbounds pass, QU gained control of the ball, but the buzzer sounded. The officials checked the replay, and awarded Quinnipiac the ball with :08 seconds. This was all the time they needed, as Vick threw the ball three-quarters of the court. Mims conveniently tipped the ball to a wide-open Monroe who knocked down the game winning three. Once again, the officials went to review, and when they saw Monroe release the shot with :01 left, the win went to the Bobcats. Banjo scored a career high 30 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. Mims added another double-double, 25 points and 10 rebounds, his third in four games. The win pushed the Bobcats to 7-11 and dropped the Blue Devils to 5-9 on the season.
For the next NEC match-up, the ‘Cats traveled to Fairfield, to face Sacred Heart University. The Pioneers remembered their last meeting, in which they were ran off Burt Kahn Court. Sacred Heart took out its revenge by rallying from a nine point halftime deficit to take a 76-74 victory. Mims led Quinnipiac with 23 points, followed by 21 points and seven rebounds from Banjo. Monroe added 11 points and five assists. The loss dropped the Bobcats to 7-12, 3-5 in the NEC, while it pushed the Pioneers to 9-10, 5-4 in conference.
While the Bobcats started slow, they have come alive as of late. With big conference victories over Sacred Heart, Monmouth and Central Connecticut, Quinnipiac has proven to all its critics that the slow start has not hindered its goal of winning the NEC and advancing to the NCAA tournament. With big games coming up against Fairleigh Dickinson (2/05), Monmouth (2/07), Robert Morris (2/12), Central Connecticut State (2/16), Wagner (2/21) and LIU (3/01) the Bobcats control their own destiny. Only time will tell if this team can accomplish its postseason dreams.