Hamden, CT -- A young team has a lot of things to learn when new players are asked to step into bigger roles. Learning how to win basketball games is one of the most important, and the Quinnipiac Bobcats seem to have figured out that formula just in time for March.
The Bobcats extended their winning streak to 13 Thursday night after beating conference rival Marist in a highly anticipated matchup, 76-71. Quinnipiac got contributions from all over, as eight players recorded at least 15 minutes of playing time against the Red Foxes.
The game nearly slipped away from the Bobcats, with everything clicking for Marist about halfway through the third quarter. Quinnipiac called a timeout as the lead grew to ten, a margin that would be the Red Foxes largest of the game.
Out of that timeout, the Bobcats would flip the script over the next 11 minutes, going on a 26-7 run in which five players scored. Quinnipiac went from trailing by ten to leading by nine halfway through the fourth, and would never give the lead back. Head Coach Tricia Fabbri said the demeanor of her team in that timeout was not what you might expect from a young team.
"The composure that we have is just second to none, and you would never know it going into that timeout down ten," Fabbri said. "Maria Napolitano just lead us out of the timeout, in terms of a defensive stance and just making some great individual plays. It really just flowed for us. It was like a switch flipped for us out of that timeout."
Poise and defensive intensity are two things the Bobcats have showed time and time again during their winning streak. In their last home game against Iona, who was atop the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings at the time, Quinnipiac trailed by double digits multiple times in the second quarter before clawing their way back and winning the game by one.
"It just shows the resilience that this team has and a poise that it has," Fabbri said. "It is really impressive from the top down, but really give this team a lot credit for the poise that it has for not being in this position of vying for a regular season championship with a lot of new faces out there."
In addition to Marist and Iona, the Bobcats have also defeated Fairfield, the other team rounding out the top four in the MAAC standings, during the nation's seventh-longest active winning streak. Napolitano says this team has their eyes on a bigger prize.
"I don't think we (think about the winning streak)," Napolitano said. "We just take it one game at a time, because this isn't our goal right here. We could have a win streak, and we go up to Albany, lose first game (of the conference tournament), and that isn't what we want to accomplish.
"We want to keep this going so when we get to Albany; we can take those three games and then finish with a championship."
Napolitano says she has noticed a culture of winning at Quinnipiac during her first year on campus.
"I've been apart of two undefeated seasons, and then the one season we didn't go undefeated we still went to the championship game, so we do know how to win," Napolitano said. "I think at the beginning of the season that's what we struggled with since we were so young. It was that crunch time how do we win, how do we stay composed to pull out a game.
"And I think after our loss at Monmouth, we realized how to do it, and ever since then we've been doing a great job."
That three-point loss at Monmouth was the last game the Bobcats have lost, and now find themselves atop their conference with four games left in the regular season. Napolitano's leadership has been key to the team's turnaround.
"(Napolitano) has showed everyone how we do what we do," Fabbri said. "(She's) really (continued) what the seniors left last year in terms of a winning culture, and again how we go about our business day in and day out. She's shouldered that responsibility really well, and that's been a really hard task for her to do with a lot of new faces."
Six of the nine players who checked into the Marist game for the Bobcats were either freshman or sophomores, meaning this team still has a lot of learning to do.
Quinnipiac and Marist have met in the MAAC Championship game in each of the past two seasons, with each team taking home the title once. Unlike in the past, this year's conference tournament lacks a heavy favorite.
"The MAAC seems to be more wide open than it's been in the past," Fabbri said. "The tournament is going to be great, and every game is going to be a battle."
Fabbri's team has proven they can win a slug-it-out, defensive battle against just about everyone in the conference. The key for the Bobcats will be, can their suffocating defense overshadow their lack of experience when stakes get higher and lights get brighter in March.