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For Rutty, Twyman, it’s a last chance
Confetti filled the air with a packed house at TD Bank Sports Center last year after the Northeast Conference championship game between Quinnipiac and Robert Morris.
The only thing was the Bobcats couldn’t enjoy it.
“It hurts, that’s the best way to say it,” senior forward Justin Rutty said.
Rutty and fellow senior Deontay Twyman don’t want to go through the same feeling – especially in their last games ever as Bobcats.
“It was a painful feeling,” Twyman said of the 52-50 loss last year to the Colonials. “But at the same time it gave us the motivation to push through this year. From that day on, that was our motivation. We have ‘52-50’ written on our board in the locker room and every day when we see it, it reminds us of that day.”
Rutty and Twyman, two starters for No. 2 Quinnipiac (21-8, 13-5 NEC), will try and lead the team back to the conference title game when it plays Mount St. Mary’s at 7 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Rutty, the reigning NEC Player of the Year, has grown both as a player and a person in each of his four years at Quinnipiac, crediting head coach Tom Moore for his maturation. Since the 2006-2007 season, Moore’s club has the greatest improvement in academic progress rate (APR) for NCAA Division I basketball programs with 219 points.
“He made me a much better basketball player, and as a person he made me see the importance of schooling,” Rutty said. “That’s where I feel like he really helped me.”
Twyman, on the other hand, transferred to QU his junior year after spending time at Polk Community College (Fla.) and Ball State University. The Maryland native chose Quinnipiac in large part because of the coaching staff and current Senior Associate Athletic Director Billy Mecca.
“With him being a Maryland guy, his role with the basketball team and how his part that he takes in the athletic surrounding too; he was really a major part in my decision,” Twyman said. “And just talking with him, he’s a really cool guy.”
Twyman has played all 62 games since joining QU. He averages 12.3 points per game, ranks second on the team in assists (99) and has the ninth best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55) in the conference, while Rutty has only missed 10 games in his tenure.
“When Rutty went down with injury, it forced a lot of our younger, frontcourt guys to grow up and step up and play a major part into what we were trying to do,” Twyman said, referring to Rutty’s elbow injury that forced him to miss seven games. “Now that Rutty’s back, we still have that confidence … Everything’s coming together, the way it’s supposed to be.”
Despite going 3-4 in his absence, the Bobcats are 9-1 since his return. Rutty regained his spot at the top of the conference leaders in scoring and rebounding. He is 10th in scoring with 14.5 points per game and leads the league in rebounding with 9.1 boards per game.
“Every game from here on out is pretty much a gift,” Rutty said.“So you have to make it as fun as possible and enjoy the ride.”
After each home (and sometimes road) win, the players celebrate with the fans in the student section. Rutty is always the first one to run into the celebration.
“We want to show that we appreciate everything the fans do for us,” Twyman said. “They play a big part of us winning, especially in this building late in games. After every game we try and go down there and celebrate with them a little bit so they can feel like they’re a part of what we do.”
Twyman said the team’s goal is to win three more games to win the conference title, clinching an NCAA tournament berth for the first time in school history.
While all the players and fans would enjoy that if it happened, Rutty and Twyman would know they finished what they started.