Nick Griffin's late three-pointer put Saint Peter's ahead of Quinnipiac for good as Peacocks held serve at home against Bobcats. (Photo by Saint Peter's University Athletics)
JERSEY CITY, NJ -- A John Dunne special is a game in which Saint Peter's methodically slows down its opponent, grinding out every last drop of each possession at both ends of the floor to turn a battle into basketball quicksand, and it has been something that has become commonplace both in and out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the coach's 11-year tenure.
Monday night provided the latest example of such an affair, with Dunne's Peacocks forcing Quinnipiac to sink deeper into the muck when it mattered most, defeating the Bobcats in Jersey City by the final of 58-54 in a defensive tug-of-war at the Yanitelli Center.
"It was a grind win," Dunne assessed as Saint Peter's (7-8, 3-2 MAAC) was able to close out Quinnipiac with a 7-2 run down the stretch after losing the tenuous lead they were able to sustain for the majority of the second half. "We did not have our best effort, but I thought we bounced back and had a good focus, so I knew our hearts were in the right place and our focus was in the right place."
Four Peacocks posted double-figure scoring totals, led by Quadir Welton's 15 points, but it was shooting guard Nick Griffin who delivered the coup de grace with an uncontested three-pointer to put Saint Peter's ahead 54-52 with 2:23 remaining in regulation. While the visiting Bobcats battled, they ultimately did not get over the hump following the junior marksman's hero turn.
"Over the summer, we talked about having different guys who can step up in different moments through the course of this grind of a MAAC season," said Dunne. "Nick's shooting the ball at such a high level right now."
But while Griffin provided the shot of the night, a contribution of potentially greater significance was Saint Peter's transition defense. Not necessarily a renowned calling card of Dunne's teams, the Peacocks forced the issue early and often, turning Quinnipiac (6-10, 3-3 MAAC) over 15 times in the first half before ultimately recording 11 steals and ending the game with a decisive 28-4 edge in points off miscues.
"We've been doing a really good job of turning teams over just with our quarter court defense," Dunne expounded. "We're doing a good job of just being really, really active. It's big to be able to turn guys over and get out and get a couple of easy baskets."
The Peacocks, who entered Monday's contest with the lowest opposing offensive rebound percentage in the MAAC, were able to limit Quinnipiac; a program reputed for its crash-the-glass mentality, to just four caroms on the offensive end in the first half even though the Bobcats recovered to post a plus-12 margin at the final buzzer. But it was the unstable ball handling in the opening stanza, one which ended in just a six-point deficit for the visitors, that left arguably the most acrid taste in their mouths as they journeyed back to Connecticut.
"The game was lost by us in the first half; not on the scoreboard, but for all intents and purposes, we threw away too many opportunities offensively," a morose Tom Moore lamented. "I didn't like how we handled the first half at all. We looked like we were feeling sorry for ourselves a lot because our offensive games weren't really flourishing at all."
Trailing 30-24 at the intermission, Quinnipiac surged with a 10-4 run to tie the score, and took the lead shortly thereafter on a Peter Kiss three-pointer with 10:23 on the clock. Saint Peter's responded with a 9-2 spurt to go back up by a half-dozen, only for the Bobcats to counter that stretch with a 10-2 outburst of their own to forge a 51-49 lead with 3:58 to go.
Much like last year's matchup in Jersey City, where the Peacocks closed the game on a 15-0 run, it was the late-game execution of the home team that prevailed in the most opportune of situations. On the heels of Chaise Daniels splitting two free throws to put Quinnipiac ahead 52-51 at the 2:46 mark, it was Samuel Idowu who fed Griffin for the game-changing triple on the ensuing possession, putting Saint Peter's ahead for good and providing just enough juice to hold the Bobcats at bay.
"We're learning how to win these grinds," a proud Dunne revealed. "Tonight, we made some big shots in big moments, and it just feels good to get the win."