Monday, April 3, 2017

CIT championship a fitting reward for Saint Peter's

John Dunne and Saint Peter's completed dream season with storybook ending, capturing CIT championship Friday and ending year with wins in 11 of last 12 games. (Photo by Saint Peter's University Athletics)

In eleven years at the helm of Saint Peter's, John Dunne has never totally gotten his due, an unfortunate fact of life for a coach who deserves mounds of credit for consistently finding ways to make the most out of his teams on an annual basis.

That narrative may have changed, finally; once and for all, Friday evening, when the Peacocks went to Texas for the second time in seven days during the Postseason Tournament and left with a championship trophy firmly in tow following a thrilling, 62-61 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi after a game-winning free throw by Trevis Wyche to seal the program's first-ever postseason championship of any kind.
"You look up and you see three seconds on the clock, and we had been working on getting that long pass from Trevis to Quadir (Welton) for a year," Dunne said as he recounted the final seconds of Saint Peter's championship moment, one that made a 6:55 a.m. flight several hours after cutting down the net in Corpus Christi all the more bearable. "We finally had an opportunity to use it. I had to make the decision if I wanted to take the chance, but we ended up going for it. We connected on it in practice 100 times, and our two senior captains were ready to connect on the play. Once we connected on that one, we felt pretty strongly that the side out of bounds play (Chazz Patterson's inbounds to Wyche) was going to work, and it did. It was just a great finish for our team and a great finish for our seniors."

"Just as much as those other three guys, I'm so happy for Cavon (Baker)," said Dunne of his reserve guard in his lone year with the Peacocks. "He had a sporadic career before he got to Saint Peter's, and then he had to sit a year. When the second semester started, he really committed himself to the team. It wasn't about him needing to have a great senior season, it became about 'let's just go out there and win for each other,' and once we did that as a group and once he did that as an individual, he really took off. Without him, we don't come close to winning that last game."

For Wyche, Welton, Patterson and Baker, the quartet of seniors who; like Dunne, helped mold the Peacocks in their respective images as a tough, scrappy unit, the payoff after going through struggle to attain success was most rewarding, and their head coach would not have it any other way.

"When we lost our top three scorers two years ago, those guys could have looked at the program and tried to find greener pastures, but they didn't," Dunne proudly reflected. "They helped recruit when we brought kids on campus, they wanted to figure out how we could get better. They committed to Saint Peter's and they never wavered to that commitment. Winning the CIT championship, winning their last 11 out of 12 games, I think says a lot about their character and commitment to hard work."

"We couldn't have asked for a better ending," he said of a season he admittedly wished could go on forever following a loss to Iona in the semifinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament on March 5. "There's not many college basketball players that could say they won their last college basketball game in the postseason. There were really good teams in the CIT, and when you look at the four teams that we beat, the three games we won on the road were all against teams that were in their conference championship games (Albany, Texas State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), and went down to the last couple of minutes. And then the team that we beat at home (Furman) was the co-regular season champion of their league, so I think just that alone is a heck of an accomplishment, when you beat some good teams. We had a really good season. I'm really proud of the guys, and I'm especially proud that they decided to play in the CIT and went after the tournament the right way."

Far too often, Dunne is the target of unjust criticism due to the defense-oriented system he runs, with his biggest detractors lamenting a pace of just over 63 possessions per game, far below the national average. The methodical attack worked to perfection, and the man responsible for implementing it has no regrets about how he and his players utilized that philosophy on the road to a championship.

"I know we put a good product on the court, and too much gets made about our style because we're trying to defend and keep teams from scoring," he elaborated. "If people really watched our games, they'd know that we're not afraid to shoot the ball quickly if we got an open shot, we're not afraid to play faster when we need to. If they just watched the games in this tournament, people would understand that. At the end of the day, man, we're just out there trying to win games for each other, and we're just happy that we certainly were selfless for one another and got the job done."

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