Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Saint Peter's puts on defensive clinic against Manhattan to clinch first-round bye

Quadir Welton's 18 points and 10 rebounds paced Saint Peter's offense, while Peacocks' defense stifled Manhattan in 61-40 victory that clinched first-round bye in MAAC Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Saint Peter's University Athletics)

RIVERDALE, NY -- Before last week, John Dunne had gone five years since defeating Manhattan, losing ten consecutive games to the Jaspers since his Saint Peter's program swept them in 2010-11.

Seven days later, he has two straight wins, after the Peacocks (13-15, 11-8 MAAC) played arguably their best defensive game of the season, holding Manhattan (12-15, 9-9 MAAC) to just 26 percent shooting and just three three-point field goals in a stifling 61-40 victory at Draddy Gymnasium, which assured Saint Peter's of a first-round bye in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament for the first time since cutting down the nets and punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament in 2011.

"I really didn't know what our energy level was going to be like today," Dunne said of Saint Peter's playing their first game since Sunday's loss to a Monmouth team that the Peacocks had on the ropes for the entire afternoon before running out of gas in overtime. "I didn't know if we were going to have that hangover from the Monmouth game, I honestly didn't know. We knew what was at stake, and I'm pleased that the guys came ready to play."

Saint Peter's interior duo of Quadir Welton and Rodney Hawkins were the biggest beneficiaries in the paint, as the pair combined for 33 points and 19 rebounds to overcome leading scorer Antwon Portley being shut out on an evening where the Peacocks doubled up Manhattan to the tune of a 40-20 points in the paint margin.

"I thought Quadir was really good," Dunne said of his junior forward, who registered a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. "It's a luxury now to be able to throw him the ball at the high post with something positive coming out of it, whether it's him scoring or playing inside out and getting other guys looks."

But in the opening minutes, hardly anyone could have predicted Saint Peter's to win so handily, as Manhattan began the game on an 11-2 run. The Peacocks would gradually pare down their deficit as the first half wore on, eventually concluding the opening stanza on a 12-4 run to take a 25-21 lead into the locker room.

The Jaspers would fire a responding salvo out of the gates, tying the score at 27 on a pair of free throws by Calvin Crawford with 17:22 to play in regulation. However, it was the only offense Manhattan would muster for over six minutes, as a 16-0 Saint Peter's run broke the game open for the visitors. Shane Richards eventually trimmed the deficit to eight points with 6:46 on the clock, but the Peacocks broke off a second 16-0 spurt down the stretch, putting the game on ice and walking out of the Bronx with their fifth win in their last seven games.

"I thought it was the best defensive performance I've seen since I've been in the conference," Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello assessed, praising Saint Peter's effort. "I thought John's kids were terrific. They did a good job of clogging the paint, we did a poor job of getting to the line, and obviously going 3-for-23, their defense did an excellent job forcing us to miss shots."

"We couldn't make a shot," he added. "It was a defensive battle that they won."

Despite the loss, Manhattan still remains in contention for the fifth and final first-round bye in next week's MAAC Tournament, while Saint Peter's now has one wrapped up heading into their final regular season game on Saturday, when the Peacocks welcome Fairfield into the Yanitelli Center.

"They're a much improved team, as are we," Dunne said of Sydney Johnson's Stags, who may be hoping to clinch a bye of their own in Jersey City. "I think it's going to be a war, I really do, and we're really looking forward to it."

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