MAAC Tournament: Men’s basketball to take on Fairfield in quarterfinals

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Photo: Liz Flynn

Photo: Liz Flynn

The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team is one win away from a MAAC Tournament finals appearance after shocking Canisius in Friday night’s quarterfinals. They know now their opponent for the semifinals, who happens to be a very familiar foe.

Standing in their way on Sunday night is the Fairfield Stags, who claimed a double-overtime thriller over the Bobcats last month in Bridgeport. The Bobcats won the first matchup between the two teams at Nassau Coliseum.

Fairfield cruised past a high-scoring (but shorthanded) Niagara team in Saturday night’s quarterfinals and will look to take the rubber match from the Bobcats on Sunday.

“Stags on the run”

The slogan is written in big bold letters across the side of Fairfield’s team bus and is especially fitting for the current state of this Stags team.

Arguably the hottest group in the MAAC right now, the Stags have rattled off six straight wins dating back to early February. Granted, four of the six wins during the streak have come against three of the MAAC’s worst teams (Marist twice, Monmouth, Siena), but as the current state of the conference tournament shows, anybody can beat anybody.

To the surprise of nobody, the Stags have heated up as senior guard Tyler Nelson has caught fire of late. During the Stags’ win streak, the MAAC’s leading scorer is averaging an absurd 26 points per game, capped off by a 27-point performance in the quarterfinals thanks to a torrid 20-point pace in the game’s first 19 minutes. Needless to say, Nelson should be accounted for at all times by the Bobcats on the defensive end.

The Quinnipiac defense handled Nelson when the teams first met, thanks in large part to Isaiah Washington, who helped hold Nelson scoreless through the first 15 minutes of the game. The second matchup felt like more of the same for the first half until Nelson exploded from three (hitting six in the second half) to lead the Stags on a furious comeback.

“The first game I struggled….but the second game I let come to me,” Nelson said of his performance against the Bobcats this season. “I know it’s going to be tough, and they’re going to be all over me.”

Fairfield’s offense runs through Nelson. It’s no secret. However, there is a difference between knowing a game plan and stopping it. The Bobcats will have to be active around the perimeter and have a hand in Nelson’s face at all times. Hopefully, for the Bobcats, Saturday’s off day will help give them some more spring in their step.

Party downtown

Only one team has defended the three-point line worse than the Bobcats this season: the Stags, who have allowed opposing shooters to hit 40 percent of their three-point attempts. If the Bobcats come out with the hot hand like they did in the opening round against Siena, they’ll be in very good shape.

One of the offensive catalysts for the Bobcats in their win against Fairfield was Andrew Robinson, who shot 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. That game was way back on January 27, and Robinson hasn’t played since, as he continues to deal with a nagging foot injury. It would be surprising if he played a major role, if any, in tomorrow night’s game.

Andrew’s brother Aaron, the hero of Friday night’s win, could be an X-factor for the Bobcats. Baker Dunleavy will need a shooting spark off the bench, and if Robinson can carry his hot second half shooting over to Sunday night, the Bobcats could put together some big runs and stay out in front of a Fairfield offense that likes to get out in space. Jacob Rigoni, one of the best three-point shooters in the MAAC, could also take advantage of a weaker perimeter defense.

The Bobcats have flexed their three-point stroke at times in the tournament so far. They hit 42 percent of their threes in their first-round win and rebounded from a cold first half by shooting 46.5 percent from three in the second half against Niagara. If they can carry that over to Sunday night, they have a good chance of staying put in Albany until Monday night’s championship game.

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MAAC Tournament: Men’s basketball to take on Fairfield in quarterfinals