Thursday Night Shocker! Bobcats strike against 3-seeded Saints, semifinal-bound for first time since 2017-18


Photo: Connor Lawless

Noah Epstein

Atlantic City? More like Upset City. The Quinnipiac Bobcats took down the Siena Saints in the quarterfinals on Thursday night 77-71, becoming the first 11-seed in MAAC Tournament history to reach the semifinals after their second straight upset. 

The Saints were 12-8 in the MAAC. They led the conference in three-point percentage and had the conference leader in three-point percentage in junior Colby RogersThey won once against No. 1 Iona and twice against No. 2 Saint Peter’s. They beat Quinnipiac twice, on Jan. 30 and Feb. 24. And they just got out-shot, out-physicalled and out-played by that same team for almost the entire game on Thursday.

The Bobcats had two separate 8-0 runs in the first half, and led 33-24 after sophomore Luis Kortright drove into the paint and passed it out to an open Matt Balanc, who nailed the perimeter shot. A Kortright mid-range jumper on the next possession then gave the Bobcats an 11-point lead, their largest lead of the half. 

The Bobcats shot 55% from both the field and from three-point range in the half. They had a great balance of scoring near and far from the basket, with redshirt sophomore JJ Riggins scoring three baskets in the paint in the first half, stepping up when Kevin Marfo wasn’t in the game.

“I thought we had a lot of self-inflicted wounds, especially ball-screen defense,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said. “We’re chasing guys where we don’t need to chase out in the scoring area and we’re being overly aggressive on ball screens where they were able to hit the pocket pass and get their big guys to the rim.”

The Saints focused on their paint-protecting defense, as well as their paint scoring, for the second half. They were missing a lot of threes in the opening half, so they changed up the game plan to look for better shots inside the arc. 

“We didn’t wanna quick-shoot the ball… We wanted to make sure we were trying to play at our pace and our rhythm, we’ll play inside-out,” Maciariello said.

Siena didn’t attempt a three for more than nine minutes into the half. The Saints eventually got into a rhythm, and then Rogers was making shots everywhere from the floor – inside and outside.

Balanc did a great job guarding Rogers in the first half. He allowed just three points from the Saints’ leading scorer, and held him to just one made shot. Rogers didn’t make his second field goal until halfway through the second half, after starting one-for-11. He then hit a shot from downtown and started to get hot. 

After what was a comfortable 58-42 lead with 10:00 to go in regulation, Rogers led the Saints on a 16-2 run to make it just a two-point game with more than five minutes to play. Rogers scored five points in that span, 11 in the half and 14 in the game. 

But Rogers’ steller second-half play wasn’t enough to carry Siena to the semifinals. The Bobcats held off the Saints’ run, despite not scoring for over three minutes. And that was courtesy of Quinnipiac’s star the previous night against Marist – Jacob Rigoni.

Rigoni drained a three to end the scoring drought, and hit a deep three a couple minutes later to put the Bobcats back up by five with just over two minutes remaining. 

“The game was getting tight, and as an experienced guy comfortable in that position, I knew that I gotta step up,” Rigoni said. “I was ready for the ball to come to me.”

Both shots were set up by off-ball screens, which was the case for a lot of his shots in the 26-point performance quarterfinal game on Wednesday. Rigoni also had a blocked shot and an inbounds steal in the last few minutes, which helped Quinnipiac halt the hot Saints offense.

As the final buzzer sounded, Rigoni and Balanc ran to their bench and dapped up their teammates so hard you could hear it in the nosebleed seats at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall. The Bobcats went from losing six games in a row at the end of the regular season to winning two straight in the tournament and advancing to the semifinals, as the only 11-seed to ever do so.

“Internally, I think we did a good job of saying ‘this is where we’re wrong, this is what we need to fix, here’s the process, let’s go believe in it,’” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said.

Quinnipiac will play in its first semifinal game since 2017-18, which was Dunleavy’s first year as head coach of the program. Even though they’ve had success so far, Dunleavy will not be satisfied unless they become champions, saying it’s impossible to “enjoy the moment.”

“There’ll be plenty of time for the rest of our lives to enjoy the moment if we do a good enough job,” Dunleavy said.

There’s one goal on this team’s mind, and the road continues on Friday when the Bobcats face No. 2 Saint Peter’s at 8:30 p.m.