Seton Hall’s talent has the nation’s attention – the Pirates are ranked 12th in the country and Myles Powell is a preseason All-American. But while he won’t make the highlight reel, Seton Hall would not be where they are without Quincy McKnight at the point.
Last year, while Powell grabbed the headlines, McKnight cemented himself as the anchor of Seton Hall’s resolute defensive front. The Sacred Heart transfer earned a reputation as one of the Big East’s premier defenders, a role he relishes despite missing out on most media attention. His active hands and excellent positioning routinely cause problems
“A lot of people don’t gratify [defense] as much as some offensive guys. It’s doing the dirty work,” McKnight said. “But I like it – it’s how I was raised, doing anything possible to win.”
McKnight plays with serious heart – a trademark of Seton Hall basketball under Kevin Willard – and is no stranger to expressing himself on the floor. He can frequently be seen slapping the Prudential Center hardwood on defense in crunch time, as his man dribbles up the court to meet him.
“Defense turns games around,” McKnight said. “A lot of times last year we’d be down late and needing a spark to turn things around, I’d be slapping the floor and you’d have Myles Powell, Myles Cale going in behind me. We’d press a lot, force a turnover and turn it into a bucket, and the momentum changes right there.”
As Seton Hall’s top defender, the Connecticut native found himself up against some of the best players in the country – playing various positions – and McKnight loves stepping up to the challenge.
“I can guard all kinds of positions, 1 through 4 – put me in the post, put me anywhere, I like to be active all the time,” he said.
The Big East, since conference realignment in 2013, has built an identity as a grueling, uniquely competitive league. Recent iterations have featured some of the top guards in college basketball, and McKnight is always up for the challenge.
“There’s a couple guys,” McKnight said when asked about his favorite past opponents. “[James] Akinjo, for Georgetown – He’s a great, active guard. [Butler’s] Kamar Baldwin, he’s one of the harder guys to guard, dribbles with his left and finishes with his right. It’s tough.”
But his biggest challenge, and perhaps his greatest accomplishment to date in blue and white, has been facing Marquette’s Markus Howard, last year’s Big East Player of the Year and a Preseason All-American this year alongside Powell.
“Markus is a different breed,” McKnight said with a smile, but that didn’t stop him from locking Howard down in last year’s Big East Tournament semifinal. A career 45% shooter averaging 25 a game last season, McKnight held Howard to just 1-of-15 from the floor. The Pirates won, 81-79.
McKnight credits New Jersey’s resident superstar for his ability to take on the game’s biggest stars.
“Being able to go up against Myles [Powell] in practice every time, it’s no different,” McKnight said. “I think going up against Myles is why I can go up and guard [players like] Markus all game.”
The Pirates face Howard and Marquette at least twice this year, along with national Player of the Year Cassius Winston, Maryland superstar Anthony Cowan and many more of college basketball’s best offensive players. McKnight won’t be in the spotlight, but thanks to him, you may not see those guys’ names in lights either.
Kyle Beck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @notkylebeck.