The third time was the charm for Quinnipiac, as the Bobcats picked up their first victory of the season 62-56 over Holy Cross Sunday afternoon after faltering in their first two contests of the year.
It was a group effort by the Bobcats, who placed three players in double figures, led by a career performance from sophomore Chaise Daniels. The young forward set new personal records for points and rebounds, scoring 20 and pulling down 12 boards for his first career double-double. Oh, and he was celebrating his 20th birthday as well.
Holy Cross held the advantage for nearly three quarters of the game, but Quinnipiac battled back late. Although never too far out of it and never trailing by more than seven points, the Bobcats got a key 3-pointer in the final minutes to pull ahead late and seal the victory.
Here are three thoughts from Quinnipiac’s first winning effort of the year:
1.) Gio McLean showed off his full range. McLean, on the court for just his second game as a Bobcat, will be counted on to do it all for Quinnipiac day in and day out. In his Bobcat debut last week against Vermont, the senior guard displayed his potent scoring ability by pouring in 18 points.
In Sunday’s victory, McLean put his other skills on display. In addition to another 11 points next to his name, McLean dished out seven assists and nabbed six rebounds.
“He allows everyone else to sort of not be the target both on the perimeter and on the inside,” head coach Tom Moore said of McLean. “His presence allows guys to play the second role, third role, fourth role. It’s almost like a closer in baseball. When you take that ninth inning guy out, the eighth inning guy takes the ninth and everyone else moves up.”
With his team down by seven in the waning seconds of the first half, McLean stepped up and showed everyone what he can do in isolation. Guarded one on one at the top of the key, McLean channeled his inner Carmelo Anthony, crossing over thrice before burying a step-back 3-pointer to pull Quinnipiac within four at the half.
“Whatever it takes to win,” McLean answered when asked of his role on the team. “Coach designated me and Chaise to be the number one and two options, but it could be any one of us any night.”
2.) Chaise Daniels carries on the tradition of Quinnipiac forwards. The 6’9” sophomore matched his age with 20 points Sunday afternoon, once again flashing his potential to join a legacy of powerful forwards to go through Hamden.
“This year my role is to be a dominant post player,” Daniels said. “Every game I’ve got to be aggressive and try to find places to score.”
One thing working against Daniels is the fact that he doesn’t have an upperclassman forward to shield him. At a young age, he is the focal point of the Bobcats’ frontcourt on both ends of the ball. On Sunday, his stalwart presence around the rim helped limit Holy Cross to just four points in the paint in the second half.
“His ceiling is limitless,” Moore said of Daniels. “With the litany of good big guys that we’ve had here, if you go back, only Justin Rutty was really needed in the first game of his sophomore year. Ousmane [Drame] and Ike [Azotam] never had that pressure first day sophomore year because they always had older guys over them. What we’re asking of Chaise right now is borderline unfair. It’s like what the high majors usually ask from guys.”
3.) The Bobcats’ offense will start to flow. A number of factors led to Quinnipiac struggling mightily in their season-opening loss to Sacred Heart just over a week ago. At the forefront was the one game suspension of McLean for playing in a non-sanctioned summer league game.
With McLean now embedded in the Bobcats’ lineup, it’s just a matter of finding out where the program’s other six newcomers best fit in. Junior college transfer Daniel Harris has been the one perimeter player to step up thus far, averaging 11.7 ppg and shooting 45% from 3-point range this season.
Harris shot 4-for-9 from behind the arc Sunday, contributing 16 points and delivering the biggest basket of his short Quinnipiac career. After trailing for much of the game, Quinnipiac finally tied it up at 50 on a Samuel Dingba free throw with 4:25 to play. Dingba missed his second free throw, which was corralled by James Ford and kicked out to Harris, who buried the 3-pointer to put the Bobcats up for good.
“There was so much going on,” Harris said of that moment. “Sometimes you’ve just got to go back to basics and knock shots down. These guys expect me to knock big shots down, and that’s what I’m here for.”
Harris has been the one Bobcat shooter to heat up early this season, but a number of his teammates are able to knock shots down from range. Ford is a career 36% shooter from 3-point range, Ayron Hutton matched that mark last year while making the All-MAAC Rookie Team last season, and Dimitri Floras and Andrew Robinson have shown off their range in bursts this season.
“We’ve got some snipers out there,” Moore said. “Danny’s just the first one having a couple of loud games from out there. His aggressiveness and confidence got stronger as the game went on too. He turned down a couple shots in the first half that he hunted down in the second half. That 7-for-19 on 3-point shooting that we saw tonight, too many nights last year was 3-for-19 in games we lost.”
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.