Quinnipiac earned its first road win of the Baker Dunleavy era with a thrilling 89-87 win at Columbia Monday night.
The Bobcats placed five scorers in double figures for the first time since Feb. 11 at Rider, and had a pair of 20+ point scorers for the first time since a Feb. 7 game against Niagara.
The Bobcats shot 50 percent from 3-point range and connected on 51 percent of their shots overall in what was their best offensive performance of the season.
John Templon has the Columbia side of things covered earlier, so here are three thoughts on the Bobcats’ road victory:
Rich Kelly ups and downs. It was a known fact entering the season that freshman Rich Kelly would play the lion’s share of minutes at the point guard position. Along with that role came the expectation there would be nights the Connecticut native would struggle, and others he would shine.
Monday was one of the latter. Kelly came through with the game-winning bucket in the final seconds, and notched his first career double-double on a game-high 22 points along with 10 assists. After scoring double figures in three of his first five games, Kelly had been held to a high of eight in his last three before breaking out against the Lions.
“He’s the guy we wanted with the ball in his hands,” Dunleavy said of Kelly on the final possession. “He’s really good at finding guys. We had all shooters on the floor, but they did a great job of denying the shooters, and so it was the right play to take the layup. That’s the most important thing to me, whether he scored or not, is that he was able to make the right play and he did.”
Due to the coaching staff’s reliance on Kelly as the primary point guard, the freshman has benefited from learning experiences a typical newcomer would usually not enjoy.
“I’ve struggled, I’ve done well, but I think each game I learn a little bit more and I get better,” Kelly said. “[The coaching staff] is very encouraging and let me play through mistakes, which really helps. It’s not like a typical freshman where you’re on a tight leash and you get a turnover and come out. I’ve had five turnovers in a game before and I still stay in the game. They really encourage me and give me confidence.”
Jacob Rigoni onto the scene. Kelly wasn’t the only freshman to have a major impact on the Bobcats’ win. Australian native Jacob Rigoni broke out with a 20-point performance on 7-11 shooting with a 4-6 mark from behind the arc.
Rigoni’s previous high was just eight points, accomplished in both the Bobcats’ season-opening win over Dartmouth and its most recent loss at Lafayette. If the freshman is able to contribute on a consistent basis, it would be an exceptional help to Dunleavy’s squad approaching league play.
“The one thing about him is he’s just got incredible confidence in himself,” Dunleavy said of Rigoni. “I think as a coach one of the greatest things you can recruit is just kids that believe in themselves. We were going to draw up a play for him and I said ‘Are you good on this block or you want it on the other block?’ He said, ‘It doesn’t matter coach; doesn’t matter, I’ll take it on either.’ He just exudes that confidence that you love as a coach.”
Peaks and valleys. Quinnipiac has gone through an up-and-down stretch in the early part of its new administration, hitting high notes while falling flat at times. The Bobcats got out of the gate with a win, but followed that up with a loss to Brown. They kicked off the Paradise Jam with a near-upset of eventual champion Colorado, then went winless in the event.
Dunleavy’s squad returned home for what appeared to be a winnable contest against Maine, but allowed the Black Bears to shoot 14-23 from distance and fell six points short. With a dismal loss in their back pocket and on a five-game slide, Quinnipiac pulled an upset over UMass in what was their first victory over an Atlantic 10 opponent since defeating Rhode Island in 2010.
Now a road loss to Lafayette in which the Bobcats struggled from the floor has been followed by an impressive, hot-shooting win at Columbia.
Knowing peaks and valleys will occur with a young team, Dunleavy has tried to keep his team level-headed and trending in an overall upward trajectory.
“After Lafayette I wasn’t super pleased with them, and I drew it for them on the whiteboard,” Dunleavy said. “It’s up, it’s down, it’s up, it’s down, but it’s never a straight line with a new group. We’ve got to make that as consistent a growth line as we can, but we’ll continue to take a step back here or there.”
Despite the ups and downs following the coaching staff transition, Dunleavy has been pleased with the attitude of his players adjusting to a new style of play, remaining hopeful it will continue to lead to success later in the year.
“Any time you bring in a new coach, there’s probably going to be some systematic changes on both sides of the ball,” Dunleavy added. “That’s certainly the case here, and everybody’s been really open-minded. That’s been probably the best part and allowed us to grow a little bit, is that guys have been open to new ideas and getting a little bit uncomfortable. I definitely commend them for that, and I would definitely tell them tonight would be a testament to just sticking with it, and they have.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.