Thursday, March 30, 2017

Saint Peter's turns impromptu home farewell into emphatic win to reach CIT title game

John Dunne and Saint Peter's are headed to CIT championship after Peacocks thrashed Furman in semifinal game that served as season finale at Yanitelli Center. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- Initially, it was a home game that was unplanned, but for Saint Peter's, their last goodbye of the season turned into a storybook ending.

Playing road games through their entire stint in the Tournament up until Wednesday night, the Peacocks suddenly found themselves back on the Yanitelli Center hardwood for a semifinal showdown with Furman, and were rewarded with a raucous turnout that contributed to a lasting impression that will resonate through the offseason.

Taking the lead on Quadir Welton's hook shot that broke a scoreless tie nearly two minutes into the first half, Saint Peter's jumped on the accelerator with a 15-0 run, not allowing a point through the opening seven-plus minutes en route to a commanding 77-51 victory, advancing to Friday's CIT championship game.

"I thought this win epitomized our team in the sense that it could be somebody different every game," head coach John Dunne assessed as the Peacocks (22-13) received stellar contributions from a host of players, namely Nnamdi Enechionyia and his team-leading 18 points. "While we all played well and played with passion, we've been very selfless all season and on the other side of the ball, I thought our defense was great."

Saint Peter's, who will travel to Texas for the second time in a week to face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi for the CIT crown, earned their date with destiny by sticking to what brought them to the dance, utilizing a combination of staunch defense and timely shooting to their advantage. The Peacocks did not concede their first field goal until nearly nine minutes had elapsed in the first half, and had built a lead as large as 26 points in the opening stanza before taking a 37-19 lead to the intermission, all the while shooting 56 percent from the floor.

Furman, who ended the first half on an 11-3 run as they threatened to creep back into the game, came out of the halftime break with their momentum intact. The Paladins (23-12) scored eight of the first ten points when play resumed, pulling within 12 with 17:37 remaining in regulation and prompting Dunne to use a timeout to regain his team's composure.

Saint Peter's would respond strongly, though, ripping off a 21-4 run highlighted by Enechionyia registering 11 straight Peacock points to re-establish a comfortable cushion, staking themselves to a 60-31 lead with 11:10 on the clock. Furman came back with a 14-4 run to draw within 20 points, but the Peacocks restored order one final time to ensure their lead would be insurmountable.

Aside from Enechionyia, Chazz Patterson; in his final collegiate home game, recorded 13 points, as did sophomore Antwon Portley. Patterson's senior classmates also contributed memorable last outings in front of their home fans, as Quadir Welton amassed 11 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, while Trevis Wyche had yet another well-rounded game with eight points, nine assists and four steals.

"In my four years, this is probably the best crowd that we ever had," said Wyche in a show of gratitude to the fan support the Peacocks received throughout his four years. "It just felt really good to go out there and just put a performance, and come out with a win."

"We weren't planning on hosting, but once you win the first and you win the second, the higher seed gets the choice if they want to host or not," Dunne intimated, sharing the backstory of how the semifinal game came to be played in Jersey City. "I called our interim athletic director, proposed it to him, he went to his boss, who got in touch with our president. I think they recognized, being that it's a semifinal game, a nationally televised game, the fact that we had good crowds all year; especially weeknights when school is in session, it was something that the community would rally behind. We did, and it was nice. These kids were great, they were handing out flyers in the student center and not embarrassed to do it."

From here, Saint Peter's heads back to the Lone Star State for Friday's title tilt, and does so on the precipice of providing a tangible testimonial for a season that their head coach admitted he would like to see go on forever.

"For these guys to go out like this, I couldn't be happier for them," Dunne proclaimed. "They've given everything. I don't have to beg them to prepare for games, I don't have to beg them to focus on walkthroughs or scouting reports or film. They just do it on their own because they want to win, and they deserve everything they're getting right now."

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