Saturday, March 4, 2017

Saint Peter's scrapes past Canisius in wild finish to move into MAAC tourney semis

Trevis Wyche's layup in final minute preserved Saint Peter's MAAC tournament quarterfinal victory over Canisius, pushing Peacocks into semifinals. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

ALBANY, NY -- Saint Peter's is no stranger to playing a style of basketball that may not always be glamorous, and did so again in their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament opener Friday evening.

But what the Peacocks lacked in aesthetics, they made up for in substance and resolve.

Opening the second half on a 10-0 run and leading by as many as 17 points four minutes removed from the intermission, Saint Peter's weathered the storm and a furious Canisius rally, holding off the seventh-seeded Golden Griffins by the final of 61-58 in the last of two quarterfinal matchups at the Times Union Center to earn their seventh straight win.

With the victory, the second-seeded Peacocks (19-12) reach the semifinal round for the second time in three years, and will face the winner of Saturday's matchup between Iona and Rider on Sunday at 7 p.m.

"I thought we did what we needed to do on the defensive end," head coach John Dunne assessed as Saint Peter's limited Canisius (18-15) to just six three-point field goals, also forcing second team All-MAAC selection Kassius Robertson into a 1-for-7 night and getting senior Phil Valenti into foul trouble. "At the end of the day, we made enough plays to stay poised enough to hold on for the win."

For the first 30 minutes of the contest, the Peacocks displayed excellent ball control, committing just three turnovers to continue a marked improvement in protecting the basketball nearly a month after a careless 21 miscues in their loss to the Griffs on February 6 at the Yanitelli Center.

"It's huge," Dunne said, complimenting the value his team instilled in each possession. "We know it's a big point of reference. We try to stay low-turnover."

Leading by a slim 30-25 margin at the intermission, Saint Peter's exhibited vintage defense, holding Canisius without a field goal for the first 4:01 of the second half as the offense came to life with ten unanswered points to triple their cushion. Against a strong front line, Quadir Welton went to work, finishing one rebound shy of a double-double amid scoring 15 points to lead the Peacocks. But the Griffs would not go away, uncorking a 10-2 run to get within six points with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation and keeping the margin at two possessions until Antwon Portley's three-pointer with 4:10 to play gave the Peacocks a 56-47 advantage.

Canisius would not go quietly into the night, however, starting a frenetic final push that saw them score 11 of the game's next 14 points. Three-pointers on consecutive possessions by Isaiah Reese (19 points, 11 rebounds for his first career double-double) and Jermaine Crumpton (18 points) brought the Griffs within one point with 42.4 seconds to go, trailing 59-58.

"I'm proud of the effort by our guys to fight back and get back in the game," head coach Reggie Witherspoon would say after the buzzer. "To see us close the gap that fast was remarkable."

On the ensuing possession after Crumpton's three, Trevis Wyche drove through the lane for a layup to extend the Saint Peter's lead to three points with 13 seconds on the clock. Having to travel the length of the floor without a timeout, Canisius got two good looks at a game-tying triple, but Crumpton misfired first before Reese came up empty on his own try after pulling down the offensive rebound off the first miss.

"They amped up their energy, they took us out of rhythm," Dunne conceded. "We didn't do a good job of drive-and-kick, just making plays. We left a few points off the board with some free throws, but at the end of the day, the first game of the tournament, we just feel good about moving on."

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