For the first time in six years, Monmouth finished a basketball game with more points than Quinnipiac.
The Bobcats had won 10 in a row in this series between former Northeast Conference rivals who made the jump to the MAAC together prior to the 2013-14 season, but today was Monmouth’s day as the Hawks came away with the 88-74 victory.
With revenge on their minds, Monmouth opened the game with a flourish. The Hawks jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the game’s first three minutes, but were held without a field goal for the next 5:14 as Quinnipiac stormed back to knot the score at 13.
Although the Hawks led by just two at halftime, a 10-2 run midway through the second half helped them open an 11 point lead with 6:40 to play. Quinnipiac could never get the lead below six the rest of the way, and Monmouth earned their first victory in this series with the Bobcats since January 2, 2010.
Here are three thoughts from Quinnipiac’s end of the court. Click here for Tony Graham’s thoughts on Monmouth and their victory.
Chaise Daniels returned to solidify the frontcourt. Quinnipiac’s chief energy source returned to the court for the first time since December 4 when he suffered a right leg injury early in the Bobcats’ loss at Niagara. The sophomore forward notched six points and five rebounds in 16 minutes of action in his return.
“I had no idea how it would go,” head coach Tom Moore said of Daniels’ return. “I was going to have to see how the game was playing out. He looked great, his competitive level was high, and his energy was high. The 16 minutes today was perfect just to get his feet wet.”
Daniels’ presence was a welcome sign for the Bobcats, who have been forced to rely upon inexperienced players to lead their front line. Junior college transfer Donovan Smith has shown great potential in his first year at the Division I level, but has been inconsistent as the lead option during Daniels’ injury. He has averaged 10.6 ppg and 7.3 rpg in a starting role since Daniels went down, but went scoreless and without a rebound in Saturday’s loss.
On the other hand, freshman Abdulai Bundu achieved his second double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds and has averaged 8.8 ppg and 7.9 rpg in Daniels’ absence. If Daniels can return to form, his presence will certainly allow his teammates to settle back into more familiar roles.
The backcourt showed up, but it has to be more consistent. Quinnipiac’s volatile first half was marked by a distinct high point and low point. The high was a lights-out 20 minutes from junior college transfer Daniel Harris. Harris put up 14 points in the half and shot 4-for-5 from behind the arc, his only blemish a half-court heave at the buzzer which bounced off the side of the rim.
“Danny made a couple of shots to just let us get our bearings,” Moore said of Harris. “He’s a guy who’s been a catch and shoot guy for most of his life and we’re trying to expand and layer his game. Let him get more confidence with his handle, his ability to put it down and get past some guys, and maybe create for some guys.”
In contrast to Harris’ dominance, the Bobcats’ low point came when leading scorer Gio McLean picked up his second foul less than four minutes into the contest. Moore, who normally has a strict rule against putting players back in the game with two fouls, admitted he planned to reinsert McLean if not for strong play at the point from his secondary guards.
Ayron Hutton and Dimitri Floras shared the duty of running the offense for the remainder of the half, and while neither lit up the scoreboard, each sophomore picked up a pair of assists.
“They did great in the first half,” Moore said of his backup guards. “I was thrilled with how they played. When we took Gio out with the two fouls down 12, I was thinking I was going to have to put him back in. It goes against what I usually do, but I was going to have to put him back in.”
The script flipped for McLean and Harris in the second half. After ending the first frame scoreless in his limited minutes, McLean poured in 15 in the second. In contract, Harris was all but shut down. The junior added just five points in the second half, his only field goal a 3-pointer in the final minute.
“We didn’t do a good job on him in the first half,” Monmouth head coach King Rice said of Harris. “We knew he was a good shooter, but we didn’t give him the ‘Ray Allen’ moniker yet. Then in the second half he had the ‘Ray Allen’ moniker so we had to be a little bit closer and try not to let him get clean looks, and I think our guys did a much better job.”
The pieces are beginning to fit. Quinnipiac began this season with a host of changes: a new Athletic Director, new coaches and staff, and seven new players. The individual pieces have not yet come together to form a well-oiled machine, but there are signs the team is beginning to turn a corner despite their 2-3 MAAC record.
“No doubt,” Moore said when asked if he sensed the team coming around. “I like our morale, our enthusiasm, how we’re competing for each other now. I’m excited to come to practice every day. There are a lot of things we have to get better at, but they make it fun.”
There are still three weeks to get through in January, but Moore’s team have had a tradition of success in February. The Bobcats are 38-10 over the last six years in the second month of the year, and it’s no coincidence. That is traditionally when players settle into their roles and become more comfortable and confident in their responsibilities.
Again, there are plenty of games to be played between now and then, but it’s something to keep in mind if Quinnipiac puts the pieces together over the next three weeks, especially since four of the Bobcats’ five remaining January games are played at home.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.