Runnin’ the Point: Finding wins in losses

By on December 4, 2018

Six games into the 2018-19 season, the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team has been underwhelming on pa

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
per.

But, looking at the bigger picture, this team has made strides over the first three weeks of the season.

To this point, the season has been broken up into three stages. First, there was the two-game losing streak – at Villanova (an obvious tough game) and the home opener against Hartford (one where the Bobcats could’ve played better). Next, there was the two-game winning streak – at New Hampshire and at home against Maine. And now, there is the current two-game losing streak – on the road against UMass Amherst and Stony Brook (both quality opponents).

Let’s dive into these three stages of the young season and see where the Bobcats did well, and – most importantly – where they can improve.

Kicking things off, the Villanova game was an impossible one. Sophomore point guard Rich Kelly – selected to the preseason All-MAAC Third-Team – sprained his right MCL just before the game (more on Kelly later). That meant freshman guard Tyrese Williams and senior guard Aaron Robinson had to fill in at the point. Neither has ever played point guard, as both are traditionally off-the-ball scorers.

“The biggest thing with Tyrese is I don’t want him to be tentative,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said. “I think he’s been aggressive. He’s made mistakes, but as a coach we put him in that environment [at Villanova], probably an unfair position, but I thought he kept battling and handled it well.

“In an unfamiliar position, overall I think [Aaron has] done pretty well with it. We can use this as experience going forward, certainly it can be valuable.”

Quinnipiac had nine turnovers in the first half against Villanova, but settled down and only had four in the second. Realistically, there’s not a ton to take away from this game. It went pretty much as expected (86-53 loss), and it was a valuable learning experience.

The home opener against Hartford was a tougher pill to swallow, however. Hartford came into the game 0-3, but the Bobcats didn’t really show up. Quinnipiac was down 13 at the half and ultimately lost 68-54, again struggling to score without Kelly running the point.

“Rich gets our guys going and he makes guys better,” Dunleavy said after the loss. “I think right now we don’t have a player that is getting guys easy shots and naturally helping guys be better.”

The player that appeared to be suffering the most without Kelly was sophomore forward Jacob Rigoni, who had just four points in each of the first two games after averaging 9.8 points per game (PPG) as a freshman. Kelly is generally the guy that gets Rigoni good looks at the basket.

But, moving into the second stage of the season, Rigoni is the guy that helped the Bobcats pick up their first win. The Australian exploded for a career-high 23 points and nine rebounds in Quinnipiac’s 69-63 victory.

The Bobcats shot just 11-for-21 from the free throw line in that game, which is a problem that’s been plaguing them all season. Through six games, Quinnipiac is shooting 61.3 percent from the line and has shot 60 percent or lower in three of those games.

The next win over Maine was no different, with the Bobcats going 9-for-20 at the stripe. This time, it was Williams and Robinson saving the day. Williams had a career-high 19 points and seven rebounds while Robinson added 11 points, three rebounds and three assists off the bench. Most importantly, each only surrendered one turnover in the game.

“It felt good it was kind of electrifying, just knowing that I can do that,” Williams said of his performance. “My teammates do a great job finding me if I get going.”

Maine threw a 2-3 zone at Quinnipiac in the first half to limit the Bobcats to 19 points, but a three-quarter-court press by Quinnipiac in the second half forced turnovers and led to easy buckets.

“On your non-conference schedule you have such a small sample size of what every team is doing,” Dunleavy said. “You almost have to go into every game assuming they’ll give you some man, some zone, some press. You have to have the full repertoire as ready as you can. I think a lot of teams play zone early in the year because they know it’s hard to have that [scheme] ready.”

It seems like the different defenses Quinnipiac is facing is having an impact on the offense, as the Bobcats have shot over 40 percent as a team in just one game so far.

That brings us to the third and final stage, back-to-back road losses against quality opponents in UMass Amherst and Stony Brook.

Quinnipiac came out slow in the first half in each of these games, facing deficits of 11 and 14, respectively, at halftime of those games. The positive was that the Bobcats didn’t go down without a fight, winning the second half on both nights but still coming up short.

Still, these first half performances are a concerning trend.

“It’s the way we practice, our practicing habits,” senior forward Abdulai Bundu said when asked what was the cause of the slow starts. “We have slow starts in practice. We have tendencies where we start practice and everyone isn’t locked in, then mid-way through the practice we pick it up. You practice how you play.”

On the bright side, Kelly made his season debut on Saturday against Stony Brook. The sophomore played 24 minutes off the bench, contributing seven points and six assists. The six assists were the most by a Bobcat in a game all season.

“I just tried to turn a negative into a positive,” Kelly said of what he did with his time on the mend. “I learned how we have to come every day with a certain approach in order to be successful and how big communication is. That has nothing to do with putting the ball in the basket, but it makes a big difference at the end of the day.

Looking ahead, Quinnipiac will wrap up its three-game road trip at Dartmouth (4-4 overall) on Wednesday, Dec. 5 and then come home to host Lafayette (2-5 overall) on Saturday. The Bobcats edged Dartmouth, 78-77, last season in their home opener, but lost at Lafayette, 79-58.

“The one thing that doesn’t change for us is playing Quinnipiac basketball,” Bundu said when asked what differences there will be playing those teams again. “We’re going to play hard and step up for the man next to us.”

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