Monday, February 8, 2016

Saint Peter's closes out Quinnipiac with 15-0 run to end five-game losing streak

Antwon Portley's 25 points led all scorers as Saint Peter's moved into sole possession of fourth place in MAAC with 68-52 victory over Quinnipiac. (Photo courtesy of Dave Musil via Saint Peter's University Athletics)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- John Dunne summed up Saint Peter's five-game losing streak in simple terms on Monday morning's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference conference call. The longtime Peacocks head coach stressed the need for his team to both make shots and bring their best energy to start games, something that had been sorely lacking during the schneid that saw a first-place team in the league move down to the .500 mark in conference play.

His young charges received the message, emphatically at that.

A run of 15 unanswered points in the final 3:16 of regulation broke open what had been a one-point game resembling a rock fight, and turned it into a convincing statement for Saint Peter's, (9-13, 7-6 MAAC) who drove away from Quinnipiac (8-14, 5-8 MAAC) down the stretch for a 68-52 victory at the Yanitelli Center.

"I thought our intensity and our mindset in the paint today was great," said Dunne as the Peacocks opened a four-game homestand and a regular season-ending run of six home games in their last eight contests by moving back over .500 in the conference standings, and into sole possession of fourth place in the MAAC. "I thought we really, really battled, and we really competed. We came back with a great mentality today, and obviously, the shot making by Antwon (Portley) was fantastic. It was a good team win."

"We just had a bigger sense of urgency," said Portley, whose 25 points led all scorers, and also marked the seventh game in which the freshman eclipsed the 20-point threshold. "We're playing at home. If we want to be at the top of our conference, we can't lose home games, so I think we just wanted to end the losing streak and carry on to the next game."

Even more impressive than the final stretch that ultimately defined the game was how Saint Peter's responded to Quinnipiac dictating the tempo for most of the evening. The Bobcats' fast-paced, aggressive style saw the visitors swarming the lane on the offensive end and hustling for rebounds and loose balls in equal doses as they kept the contest within single digits for most of the night, but were stymied by the Peacock defensive efforts despite the 20 offensive rebounds registered.

"They had a lot more poise than we did," Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said of Saint Peter's. "Offensively, down the stretch, we had a couple of turnovers and missed a couple of open shots, missed a couple of tip-ins, and they made their free throws down the stretch. We were hungry and focused for 37 minutes, but in the last three minutes, they had more will on the defensive end than we had will on the offensive end."

Rather than criticize a 29 percent shooting effort from the floor, Moore took a different approach, praising the Saint Peter's defense for making it difficult to establish a rhythm.

"Saint Peter's is, in my opinion, one of the best two or three defensive teams in this league," Moore said, praising the Peacocks. "They have been since we've been in there, and to me, they almost look like a mirror image of us the way they play their man defense. They really do a great job of playing with toughness, there's not a lot of tricks, not a lot of gimmicks. They stay between the basket, they make you earn your hoops, and they stay inside you so that you don't get a lot of easy drives to the basket."

The Bobcats, who were paced by 12 points and seven rebounds from Chaise Daniels, poked a head in front with 10:15 remaining in regulation, when Daniel Harris' three-pointer gave Quinnipiac a 40-39 lead. The advantage was short-lived, however, as an Elisha Boone layup on the ensuing possession tipped the scales back into the Saint Peter's end. The visitors would get within one point several times in the minutes that followed before Quadir Welton's free throws began the 15-0 spurt that opened the floodgates for the home team, who continues their stay on their home floor with matchups against Niagara and Canisius this weekend.

"I think they're both hard-playing teams," Dunne assessed, analyzing his next two opponents. "Niagara beat us up there by two, and at the end of the day, we just have to put our hard hat on just like today. Hopefully, we'll make some shots, if not, we know we're going to have a great competitive spirit. We feel like we're in a pretty good position right now."

"It's tremendously important," said Portley of the aspect of holding serve on their home floor for the remainder of the season. "We know every game's not going to be easy. It's going to be a lot of hard work."

NOTES: Saint Peter's guard Trevis Wyche missed the first game of his career Monday night, nursing an ankle injury suffered Friday at Siena. Rodney Hawkins also did not play, enabling freshman Cameron Jones to make his first career start. Samuel Idowu scored six points in 13 minutes, a productive outing for the freshman, who made three clutch baskets at important times. "I think Sam's potential is extremely high," said Dunne. "We think he has a really high ceiling. Unfortunately for him, it's just hard for us to take Welton out of basketball games." The Peacocks' 15-0 run was highlighted by a Chazz Patterson three-pointer that extended Saint Peter's lead to six points with 2:37 to go in the game. "I feel really good for Chazz because he's down on himself for not making shots," Dunne admitted, but he puts in a great effort time in and time out. I'm glad he was rewarded tonight."

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