Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't Count Saint Peter's Out In MAAC

Last night's 80-67 victory over LIU Brooklyn demonstrated just how strong a coach John Dunne is, and if his Saint Peter's team can get a few more, Peacocks may be a threat in wide-open MAAC.  (Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)

Just one month into the season, no conference has shown itself to be as unpredictable as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.  Of the ten schools in the MAAC, an astounding eight are 1-1 through their first two conference games, each program has seen its share of big wins and puzzling losses; a Canisius team that finished near the bottom of the standings before making a coaching change has now started 8-2, and the three teams expected to contend for the conference championship have dealt with injuries to their stars and a highly touted newcomer not being eligible until tonight.  Lost in the shuffle in all this is a school just two years removed from emerging victorious as MAAC champions, a team still looking to shake off any doubters from last season's rebuilding.

Saint Peter's University may not always be the most exciting team to watch, but the Peacocks put together arguably their best and most impressive win of the season last night, shooting 55 percent from the field against an LIU Brooklyn team coming off two consecutive Northeast Conference championships, defeating the Blackbirds by the final of 80-67 on Saint Peter's home court at the Yanitelli Center.  Led by their three-guard attack of Desi Washington, (28 points) Yvon Raymond, (14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) and Blaise Ffrench, (12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) the Peacocks were able to blow by LIU and get inside the paint seemingly at will as the game went on.

"I thought our team played with really good focus," Saint Peter's coach John Dunne said after the game.  "We slowed them down by going zone in the second half and taking the ball out of (Jason, LIU Brooklyn's point guard) Brickman's hands."

Brickman managed ten points and seven assists in the losing effort for the Blackbirds, but the night clearly belonged to Saint Peter's.  After starting the game in their methodical, grinding style, LIU sped the game up midway through the first half, and Saint Peter's responded by beating the visitors at their own game, led primarily by the sophomore Washington.

"He's meant a lot to us," Dunne said of his star guard.  "If I wasn't preaching 'share it, share it, share it,' he could average twenty-something (points) a game.  We've competed every game.  Coming back off a five-win year, that's what you want to do."

Saint Peter's also took advantage of the absence of LIU forward Julian Boyd, the reigning NEC Player of the Year who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, outrebounding the Blackbirds 23-15 in the second half despite allowing a double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds) to Boyd's fellow NEC first-team selection Jamal Olasewere.  The Peacocks' transition game was an overlooked star last night, outscoring LIU 10-2 on fast breaks and converting fourteen Blackbird turnovers into 21 points, prompting a very satisfied reaction from their coach when asked about his team's efficiency.

"I wish we would have settled down a little more early," Dunne said, "but we did a great job of not turning the ball over." (Saint Peter's ended the night with just eleven miscues) "When you play defense the way we play and you don't give easy baskets, and you make teams earn points, it slows the game down."

Not only did Saint Peter's University make LIU Brooklyn earn points last night in Jersey City, the Peacocks also earned more respect and credibility that they can proudly carry with them into their next game, a Saturday affair against Loyola (Illinois) and even further into MAAC play, which resumes against Manhattan on January 4th.

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