With a senior-laden roster, John Dunne took Saint Peter's to MAAC tournament semifinals, and in many ways, solidified his reputation for doing a lot with what others consider a little. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
John Dunne has been at Saint Peter's University for nine years, and with each passing season, he has heard it all before.
The criticism of his record. Of his school's facilities. Of Saint Peter's consistently being taken lightly, by and large. Yet for all the naysayers, Dunne managed to once again get the most out of a talented Peacocks roster, winning sixteen games and coming one game away from playing for a conference championship.
"I was definitely proud of the team, really, (throughout) the whole season," Dunne fondly recalled after guiding a roster led by a senior core of Desi Washington, Marvin Dominique and Tyler Gaskins into the semifinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, in which Saint Peter's saw their season end at the hands of eventual champion Manhattan for a second consecutive year. "We seemed to keep digging ourselves a hole, but managed to fight and crawl out of it. From starting 0-4, and then I think we were 2-6 at one point, but towards the end of the year, I thought we played really well, which gave the seniors a nice going-out party."
A four-game winning streak as the calendar turned from December into January seemed to give the Peacocks a momentum boost, but losses in six of their next eight games appeared to have extinguished whatever flame was lighting the way toward the end of the tunnel. Dunne's gritty roster found a way, as they always do, winning their next three games after that, and then scored a significant upset in their regular season finale against Iona, defeating the Gaels at the Yanitelli Center to head into the tournament on a positive note.
"I just thought we felt good going into the tournament," Dunne honestly stated. "I thought we played, arguably, our best game of the year against Fairfield in the first round (Saint Peter's held the Stags to just seven first-half points in a stifling 63-33 victory) after losing to them two weeks earlier, (and) continued with a strong performance against Rider. Honestly, the 17-point loss to Manhattan, I don't think the final score was indicative of the game, but they were the better team."
Next season will be just as challenging for Dunne, who now replaces his experience as the Peacocks retool along with the rest of the MAAC, which should be younger in general across the board. While Washington and Dominique are gone, a handful of supporting cast members from last season, headlined by Trevis Wyche, stay on, now charged with the responsibility of leading Saint Peter's back to the top half of the conference.
"It's always hard when you lose core guys that play 30-plus minutes a game," Dunne admitted, "especially guys that score the ball. Those guys are just going to be hard to replace. I think the challenge is to, one, we're going to have a completely new team; we have to build our chemistry, and two, these guys have to get a quick understanding of having the will to prepare to win. I feel pretty strongly that we're bringing in talented players, and now, it's just a matter of hopefully gelling and understanding what it takes to prepare to win."