Freshmen Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss have reignited a slumping Quinnipiac basketball program and are leading the Bobcats back into contention in the MAAC.
Coming off a 9-21 season and 6-14 finish in conference play in 2015-16, the Bobcats set out to rebuild their backcourt entering this year’s campaign. Just three guards remain from a season ago as head coach Tom Moore and his staff added six fresh faces to the roster this offseason.
Dixon and Kiss are the lone freshmen recruits, but have quickly established themselves as the pacesetters on the team. Dixon leads the squad in scoring with 16.8 points per game while Kiss ranks second at 12.5.
“They’ve become well-respected in the locker room quickly,” Moore said of the freshmen. “They’re still so young and I think sometimes the older guys look at them almost as two younger brothers, but they’ve earned so much respect in that locker room.”
Following Monday’s loss at Iona, the Bobcats own a 5-5 record in league play, sitting in a three-way tie for fifth place in the conference standings. Picked to finish 10th in the preseason coaches’ poll, Quinnipiac is instead making a play for a top-five finish, which carries with it a bye in the first round of the conference tournament come March.
Roommates on campus and on the road, Dixon and Kiss have quickly developed an impressive chemistry both on and off the court.
“We’ve got a great relationship,” Dixon said. “The chemistry, the bonding, everything is just falling into place. I think that’s why we play well together on the court as well, because of the relationship we have off the court.”
Thanks to this dynamic duo, the Bobcats are one of just five programs in the nation with a pair of freshman guards averaging at least 10.0 ppg. Kentucky (Malik Monk & De’Aaron Fox), St. John’s (Shamorie Ponds & Marcus LoVett), Arizona (Kobi Simmons & Rawle Alkins), and Auburn (Mustapha Heron & Jared Harper) round out the list.
Dixon, a native of New Castle, Delaware, played at the Sanford School where he was named state Player of the Year following a senior campaign where he averaged 27.1 ppg and led the team to a state championship. His recruitment to Quinnipiac began at an AAU event in his junior year, after which he became a top priority for the coaching staff.
“I absolutely loved him, just his overall game was terrific,” said Moore, who was attending the event originally to scout a senior on an opposing team. “He’s a combo guard, he has that high IQ, he’s scoring it, shooting it, and he’s efficient. He’s got a little old school game to him where he’s not out of control. He’s very deliberate, yet when he changes speeds he’s shifty. I just fell in love.”
Kiss, a New York City native, took a different path to the Bobcats. He began playing competitively at Monsignor Scanlan High School in the Bronx, but made a move to Victory Rock Prep School in Sarasota, Florida for his junior year. It was there that he was pursued by Quinnipiac assistant Eric Eaton.
“Sometimes what can happen in those situations is a kid can get a little lost,” Moore said of Kiss making the move south. “Sometimes the traditional New York-area schools maybe might forget him and sometimes the southern schools in Florida aren’t aware of him either. I think sometimes he flew under the radar a little bit during the recruitment because of those situations. Eric really believed in him and pushed him really hard in all our meetings. I got a chance to see him in July and thought he was really tough, really competitive, had good ball skills. I just loved his moxie and everything that Eric had said about him was spot-on.”
Kiss returned north to attend Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Massachusetts for his senior year, and soon made an official commitment to the Bobcats.
Thanks to their stellar starts and increasing roles in the Bobcats’ offense, both Dixon and Kiss have the opportunity to set freshman scoring records by season’s end. Dixon is on pace to run past the Quinnipiac Division I record of 13.0 ppg set by Rob Monroe in 2001-02, and can challenge Frank Berretta’s all-time school record of 16.7 ppg set at the Division II level in 1979-80.
Dixon’s average leads all MAAC freshmen by a wide margin and ranks seventh among all freshmen in the nation while Kiss remains in a neck and neck battle with Rider’s Stevie Jordan (11.9 ppg) for the second spot in the league.
Either Kiss or Dixon has led the team in scoring 15 of the Bobcats’ 20 games this season. Dixon has led the way eleven times while Kiss has paced the squad on four occasions, including 18 and 19-point outbursts against Gonzaga and Seton Hall in the team’s first two games at the AdvoCare Invitational over the Thanksgiving holiday. On six occasions, the pair has represented the Bobcats’ top two scorers.
Kiss’ performance at the AdvoCare tournament in which he averaged 16.0 ppg over three contests earned him MAAC Rookie of the Week honors. Dixon has captured the award four times this season and three weeks in a row after establishing new career highs in consecutive games, with 27 in a 97-91 overtime win over Iona January 14 and 29 in the Bobcats’ 95-90 win over Canisius January 20. The outputs tied and broke the Quinnipiac Division I record for points in a game by a freshman.
In the win over Iona, it was Dixon who held the ball on the final possession of regulation. Although his off-balance shot fell off the mark, Dixon’s composure earned praise from his coach after the game.
“When we diagrammed that last moment, he embraced it,” Moore said of Dixon postgame. “He didn’t shy from it at all. He was fired up, and that says a lot about him. He’s got a quiet confidence about him that’s really sort of unflappable.”
Dixon’s confidence in that late-game moment led Moore to recall a clinic he attended when he first got into coaching in his early 20’s. Longtime coach Hubie Brown, who worked with future Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks, addressed the clinic on the subject of late-game shots.
“Hubie said ‘Look at those five sets of eyes in front of you and trust me, nobody wants to take the last shot,’” Moore explained. “’They’re all afraid in high school and they’re all afraid in college.’ He said ‘Jabarr and Robertson weren’t afraid to take the last shot, but I’ve looked in the eyes of NBA guys and they don’t want to take the last shot.’”
The pair’s stellar start has already led to comparisons being drawn to some of Quinnipiac’s recent greats. Moore offered James Johnson (’12) and James Feldeine (’10) as apt comparisons for Dixon and Kiss, respectively. Johnson graduated as Quinnipiac’s leading Division I scorer with 1,729 points, while Feldeine capped his campaign with 1,320.
Even teammates have chimed in on the impressive contributions Dixon and Kiss have provided through the midpoint of the season.
“I think it’s amazing,” junior forward Chaise Daniels said of the duo’s start. “My freshman year I thought I did something, but they’ve come in and gone straight into the fire. They’re ready every game. Yeah they’re going to make some mistakes, but they’re freshmen so we’ve got to live with it. They’re maturing as the season goes on, and I’m proud of what they’re doing.”
The grueling 20 game MAAC schedule can wear on anyone, but these freshmen have made a commitment toward that growing maturity.
“I feel like just staying focused every game and sticking to the game plan half by half has been a challenge,” Kiss said of playing at the college level. “I feel like we’re getting better at it each and every game and will continue to get better at it.”
Dixon and Kiss have established themselves as fixtures in the Quinnipiac lineup, and should provide Moore and the Bobcats with a lethal 1-2 punch for years to come.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.