Monday, February 13, 2017

Welton takes over after halftime as Peacocks steamroll Manhattan

Quadir Welton exploited Manhattan for 19 points and 14 rebounds as Saint Peter's ran away from Jaspers, locking up regular season sweep with 69-50 win. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

RIVERDALE, NY -- John Dunne has projected quiet confidence in his Saint Peter's team throughout the season, not once getting too high or too low after a win or loss as the Peacocks tread water near the top of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings.

Returning to form with a commanding win over Quinnipiac on Thursday following a string of three straight losses by a grand total of six points, Dunne faced a potential trap Sunday evening against a Manhattan team that had just taken conference leader Monmouth to the wire in a gallant effort less than 48 hours prior. But his concerns, as they have been many times this season, were remedied by a stout defense that may have pitched its best game of the year.

Conceding just five field goals after halftime, only one of which was inside the three-point line, Saint Peter's put on a clinic at Draddy Gymnasium in an authoritative 69-50 takedown of the Jaspers, sweeping the former MAAC heavyweight for the second straight season to give Dunne a fourth consecutive victory over a once-perennial nemesis he had lost ten straight games to since his 2011 conference championship.

"We knew if we could get in a rhythm offensively, we would be okay for the second half," he said as the Peacocks (14-12, 10-6 MAAC) shot 56 percent from the floor, relying on Quadir Welton's 19-point, 14-rebound double-double to lead the way. "It was just a matter of us trying to keep our poise and then they missed a couple of threes in the second half, and that helped us out too."

Saint Peter's led by just one point going into the intermission after Zane Waterman beat both the shot clock and the buzzer on a three-point shot with four-tenths of a second left in the opening stanza, bringing Manhattan (9-18, 4-12 MAAC) a jolt of momentum. But any boost received from the basket proved to be fleeting, as the Peacocks battled for three minutes in a scoreless start to the second half before a three from Nick Griffin; who scored 17 points on a near-perfect night that saw the junior marksman miss only one field goal among the seven he attempted, sparked a 13-0 run that essentially buried the Jaspers in a flurry of missed shots and a performance on the visiting end that drew comparisons to one of the best defenses in the nation.

"They remind me of Virginia," Steve Masiello assessed in the wake of his Jasper team being manhandled in the paint by a 34-6 margin as they were limited to a 30 percent shooting rate from the floor. "When they have an eight-point lead on you, it's like a 15-point lead because they're so methodical with how they guard, how they defend, how they execute."

"We just try not to give up easy baskets," said Dunne in a counterpoint to Masiello's praise. "Sometimes we get knocked for that, but at the end of the day, we're comfortable about the way that we play and we feel good about things."

With the win, Saint Peter's moves into sole possession of third place in the MAAC standings, only a half-game back of Iona for the second spot as the stretch run heats up in a season where the Peacocks are no longer the trendy contender, but rather a team that knows the terrain it is about to travel and is optimistic about how to navigate it.

"We knew we had a chance," Dunne admitted. "I'm not one to make bold predictions, but we knew we had a chance to be pretty good. At the end of the day, we know we have a good team, we know there's no one in this league we can't beat; but at the same time, we know there's no one in this league that can't beat us. We just have to stay focused and try to play good basketball."

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