Quinnipiac 95, Canisius 90: Life Easier When Shots Go In

Tom Moore stood in front of the podium after Friday night’s 95-90 win over Canisius with a smile on his face. Yes, winning is a lot more fun than losing (expert analysis), and the Bobcats are threatening to move into the top half of the MAAC with a 5-4 record, but there was more to it than that.

Quinnipiac shot 58.9% from the field and posted a 66.7 eFG% (8-13 from three-point range), and while there is plenty to work on defensively and 19 turnovers is a bit alarming, having a team that can make shots makes a coach’s life so much less stressful. Moore, of course, could attest to that as much as anyone, because there were many, many nights last season where he stood in front of that same podium and tried to explain why his offense wasn’t working and how hard he and his staff were going to try to fix it.

It was painful to watch, and Moore’s words couldn’t hide how difficult to coach it was on a daily basis, which isn’t meant to disrespect his team, which obviously included talented senior Gio McLean, but it just wasn’t working.

And the end result was a 9-21 record (6-14 MAAC) that saw the Bobcats finish 337th in offensive efficiency, 348th in eFG% (42.8%), and 351st and dead last nationally in two-point shots (38.3%), a full two percentage points worse than anyone else. Winning that way is impossible, no matter who is coaching, of course, and while there is still plenty of work to be done (Quinnipiac is currently 202nd in offense, 227th in eFG% at 49.0%, and 238th on two-pointers at 47.3%), the Bobcats have been above 1.00 point per possession in six of their last seven games, winning four. They posted a 1.23 ppp Friday, led by freshman Mikey Dixon scoring 29 points on just nine field goal attempts, including some big shots late.

“You just feel like you’re coaching more with an even deck when you have some offensive answers on the perimeter,” Moore said. “You can call different things and put in different things. The struggled a year ago were about trying to keep morale up through long scoring droughts and that has a weird effect within games and within seasons. A night like tonight, we’re tough and locked in in the first half, but a little scatterbrained in the second, they could have beaten us by 10 or 12.”

The Bobcats must go to Iona and Monmouth in their next two games, so things could still turn in a negative direction, but at the moment, they are really fun to watch, something that just as not true in any way last year, something even the post-truth era couldn’t fix.

“We have more answers on the perimeter, and we’re a little bit older on the inside than we were last year,” Moore said. “We couldn’t have won this game a year ago, and we probably couldn’t have won it in November or even December. We’re getting better, and we’re growing with a lot of guys contributing. It’s a fun group to coach right now.”

What else did we learn before a pretty good crowd at the TD Bank Sports Center?:

  1. Unfortunate breaks for Canisius

Just seven minutes into the game, Phil Valenti took exception to Dixon trying to complete a layup a couple of seconds after the whistle had already blown, and probably hit him with a shoulder a little harder than he meant to, knocking Dixon to the floor. Chaise Daniels, as you’d expect, immediately came to his teammate’s aid, and went at Valenti before cooler heads prevailed.

But the officials immediately hit Valenti and Daniels with a double technical, which posed a big problem for Valenti because when the officials subsequently went to the monitors, they had to assess Valenti with an additional Flagrant 1 for the first contact with Dixon, and Canisius’ third-leading scorer and senior leader was ejected.

“They told me that he (Valenti) intentionally hit their guy in the face,” Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “I told them I’ll go back and look at the video and it better darn well be obvious that he intentionally hit the guy in the face. Maybe it is, we’ll be on the bus watching it.”

It was unfortunate because the proper outcome was probably just a flagrant foul on Valenti and then allow Daniels to stick up for his teammate without punishment. But it didn’t work that way, and Valenti had to spend the better two hours in the visiting locker room, and – with all due respect – the MAAC is not the NBA, all he had for amenities was a clock that showed how much time was left. Also, ironically, it was Valenti who in a CIT game I attended two years ago was struck by a door while being harassed by NJIT students, and had to get stitched up at halftime. So he’s due for a break somewhere down the road.

2) Defenseless Canisius

Quinnipiac is much improved offensively, but Canisius (12-8, 5-4) continued two disturbing trends: slow starts and poor defense. The Griffins are down to 283rd in defensive efficiency, and 8th in MAAC play (they are just behind Iona on offense in conference play) after Friday’s struggle, which saw them foul too much (36 Quinnipiac free throw attempts) and give up 57.0% on two-point shots (they are currently 313th in that category). Those just won’t get it done and Witherspoon knows it.

“They had to make the baskets, so you have to give them credit. I’m not happy with our effort at all, but they made shots,” Witherspoon said. “It’s a lesson taught, but I don’t know if we learned it. We’ll just have to see.”

(Quinnipiac is now 4th in MAAC play in offensive efficiency after being dead last in 2015-16.)

3) Delaware connection

Mikey Dixon is now averaging 16.7 points per game and 28.0 ppg in Quinnipiac’s last two games (both wins). He turned the ball over six times, but hit two massive shots down the stretch, and has been what Moore couldn’t find last season, someone to make shots consistently.

“He’s a super talented offensive player, but I really didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” Moore said. “The poise and maturity offensively, he had the same game on the AAU circuit and in high school where he was efficient. That’s probably the best word you can use to describe his game. He doesn’t get sped up and that’s very rare for a freshman guard.”

He becomes the latest in a seemingly long line of Delaware players to invade the MAAC (Dixon was the Delaware Player of the Year last season), which includes A.J. English, Marcus Gilbert, Dion Jones, Austin Tilghman, and Khallid Hart, who also went to The Sanford School. Dixon committed early to Quinnipiac and stuck with the Bobcats even after a growth spurt and a huge senior year of high school. That could be a key factor in Quinnipiac, picked just 10th in the MAAC preseason poll, making its way back near the top of the league in the coming years.

“A.J. is one of my real close friends from back home. I definitely watched his push to the NCAA Tournament and we worked out together in the summer,” Dixon said. “I’m really cool with a lot of Delaware guys, and we talk.”