No. 11 Quinnipiac eliminated by No. 2 Saint Peter’s, tournament run comes to an end


Photo: Connor Lawless

Noah Epstein

The Bobcats’ tournament run came to an end on Friday night, losing to the Saint Peter’s Peacocks 64-52 in the semifinals. The run consisted of two upset wins, but on Saturday it’ll be the No. 2 Peacocks who play for their first championship since 2011.

Quinnipiac stayed with Saint Peter’s through the first half, and even had a one-point lead at the break. The Bobcats did so well against the Peacocks, who are ranked 12th nationally in defensive efficiency, because of Matt Balanc’s shooting and Kevin Marfo’s aggressiveness.

Balanc was crucial, as he continued his red-hot tournament play into Friday night. He made all three 3-pointers he attempted in the first seven minutes of the game, as well as a driving shot in the paint. Balanc had 11 points with 13:36 left, but he didn’t score for the rest of the half. When Balanc was being guarded better outside, Marfo started producing a lot inside.

On the first possession of the game, Marfo caught the ball at the top of the key and the nearest defender was all the way in the paint. He hesitated, eventually drove toward the basket and missed a late shot attempt. He wasn’t looking toward the basket, and didn’t drive when he had the open lane. For the rest of the half, Marfo was much more aggressive. He looked to the basket and drove on the Peacocks, scoring six points on 3-for-4 shooting after the early missed shot. 

Balanc and Marfo led the Bobcats to a 31-30 halftime lead, but the Peacocks got separation early on in the second half. In their first possession, all five players touched the ball, and the basketball flew around so fast like a game of hot potato. Junior Matthew Lee caught the ball behind the three-point line, pump-faked, took three dribbles and nailed a mid-range jumper. After a Doug Edert 3-ball and a KC Ndefo easy drive inside, the Peacocks were on a 7-0 run just over a minute into the half.

“They upped the pressure a little bit, switched the defenses back and forth and took us out of a rhythm,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said about the run. “We were on our heels a bit.”

The run was too much for Quinnipiac to handle, as was Ndefo. The MAAC Defensive Player of the Year for the third straight year was dominant against the Bobcats, scoring inside a lot on Jacob Rigoni and playing great defense on Marfo. He finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, all three coming in the second half. 

“(Ndefo’s) just got great defensive instincts and effort,” Dunleavy said. “(He) impacts the game in a lot of ways so I give him credit, he did an awesome job. He’s playing like one of the best players in the league right now.”

Ndefo helped defensively near the basket, while the Bobcats went ice cold from deep. They only made one 3-pointer in the second half, going 1-for-7. With limited success shooting the ball or scoring inside, the Bobcats couldn’t compete as well with the Peacocks as they did earlier in the game.

Ndefo’s dominant presence on both offense and defense helped the Peacocks sustain their early second half success and cruise to a 64-52 win to clinch their first championship berth since 2011, when they beat Iona to win it all. They’ll face No. 4 Monmouth on Saturday, and the winner goes to the NCAA Tournament.

As for the Bobcats, their season ends with a semifinal game loss – a sentence that would’ve shocked anyone else if they heard it heading into the tournament. The team lost six straight games before traveling to Atlantic City, and proceeded to knock off two higher ranked teams in Marist and Siena.

“Teams don’t do that; they don’t lose six games and then come together and play their best basketball after that,” Rigoni said. “That’s something I’ll cherish about this group.”

Rigoni, Marfo and Brendan Martin are all graduating and have finished their Quinnipiac careers. Dunleavy will certainly miss these players, as they mean a lot to Bobcat basketball.

“These are the first guys I ever talked to as recruits for the school… The amount they’ve grown and what they’ve given to this program, this university – I’m forever grateful for that,” Dunleavy said.

Just like the players mean a lot to Dunleavy, he means a lot to the players as well. Without even being asked, Rigoni took the time to talk about Dunleavy’s importance to the Bobcats.

“There’s no one more dedicated to the team in doing the job for us and trying to put us in the best position to win… there’s no question in who should be leading this team,” Rigoni said about his coach. 

Dunleavy led his team to back-to-back upsets and his second semifinals appearance in five years as Quinnipiac’s head coach. He’ll lead the team next year, looking to finally get to a championship game.