Runnin’ the Point: Stepping stone season for men’s basketball
The Bobcats were picked to finish 11th in the MAAC preseason poll. They lost seven of their 14 players from last season. The starting lineup was filled with new faces.
Still, Quinnipiac made it to the final four of the conference tournament, the MAAC semifinals, before falling to Fairfield 74-64 on Sunday night.
“Anytime your season comes to an end, it can be brutal, especially when you feel like you’ve built a close bond with your team. That’s certainly the case with this group,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said. “We had our moment in the locker room after the game. It’s hard to finish this way, but I couldn’t be more proud of what we built and what we’ve become together.”
The Bobcats finished the season just 12-21, but after reaching the MAAC semifinals in his first year at Quinnipiac, Dunleavy accomplished something that hadn’t happened in four seasons.
Like any season, Quinnipiac went through its ups and downs. There was the opening day win over Dartmouth to begin Dunleavy’s tenure. Then, there was four losing streaks of three games or more. The Bobcats started MAAC play 6-4, but finished just 7-11.
“This was a cool run for us, not because we won two games in the MAAC, just more so that we came together through adversity,” Dunleavy said. “One of the hardest things for us to do as a staff was to convince our guys that we could get better even though we had a tough schedule down the stretch, we lost seven of eight, but I thought we were getting better all the way through. This doesn’t happen by accident.”
All season Dunleavy has preached how he doesn’t want to use record to indicate the progress of his team, and he didn’t waver from that after his season came to an end.
Throughout the MAAC Tournament, it was freshmen, guard Rich Kelly and forward Jacob Rigoni, that stepped up for the Bobcats. Kelly has been a leader for this team all season and been a key part in many victories. Rigoni averaged 9.8 points per game (PPG) for the season and scored in double figures in the last five games to close the year.
While Kelly and Rigoni definitely played a huge role this season, senior guard Cam Young was the Bobcats’ best player all year. Young averaged 18.8 PPG and 6.8 rebounds per game (RPG) en route to breaking the Quinnipiac men’s basketball Division I single-season scoring record at 622 points and an All-MAAC Second Team selection.
“[Dunleavy’s] meant a lot to me. He’s really pushed me,” Young said. “Of course people know that I can score, but he challenged me in other ways like trying to get me going defensively. He brought the best player out of me. The stuff that I showed this season is a tribute to him and I just really appreciate it.”
While the loss stings for the team, it is clear that the program is in good hands moving forward. That kind of relationship that Young and Dunleavy had shows just that. In only one year together, Dunleavy formed bonds with his players that will never be forgotten.
“I told (the seniors) that what this program does become going forward, they’ve set the foundation for,” Dunleavy said. “Everybody that’s coming back and everybody that’s coming in has a huge responsibility to carry forward what these seniors, Cam Young, Chaise Daniels, [graduate student] Alain Chigha and Greg Tarca, have built.”
Appreciate everyone’s support throughout the year! Very proud of how our guys battled all season while continuing to grow. We will miss our Seniors but they have set a great foundation for our future! #HumbleAndHungry
— Baker Dunleavy (@BakerDunleavy) March 5, 2018
The foundation has been set. The 2017-18 season will go down as the first step toward a greater goal. Winning two MAAC Tournament games is huge for the men, but this team should look to the women’s team for inspiration. The level that Quinnipiac women’s head coach has gotten that program to is what Dunleavy should shoot for.
Talking with coaches and other journalists at the MAAC Tournament in Albany, it is clear that Dunleavy is highly regarded.
Like Dunleavy said, replacing those four seniors will be difficult. They each offered a value to this team whether it be on the court or in the locker room.
The incoming freshman class includes four guards, Tyree Pickron, Matthew Balanc, Tyrese Williams and Savion Lewis. The way that these players are integrated will be key in the early success for 2018-19.
“It’ll be different (this offseason),” Dunleavy said. “We kind of hit the ground running last summer and it was a little hectic just doing everything at once. So I think we have a little bit of a foundation set here, but we have a lot of new bodies coming in, a lot of new players. The new guys will have to learn our program and what we want our culture to be. We’re excited for that challenge.”
The challenge of getting better again next season awaits Dunleavy and the Bobcats, but the future is buzzing with hope after this season’s unexpected late run.