Thursday, November 30, 2017

Saint Peter's winning early while continuing to grow

Davauhnte Turner advances up floor for Saint Peter's, who routed FDU for second consecutive win. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- The banner hangs, catching immediate attention. On the south end of the gym, there are several displays of excellence, but this one stands out: 2017 CIT Champions.
    
That special run of last March, exciting the fan base and alumni, is eight months removed. A number of those players have moved on. There is a new group on Kennedy Boulevard. Some things, however, have not been altered. 
    
Saint Peter’s will still come at you hard, displaying the grit and intensity so much a trademark of their Jersey City location. On the sidelines, now in his twelfth season, is head coach John Dunne. One of the most respected coaches in the business, the Saint Peter’s mentor is one you would be hard pressed to hear a negative uttered about him. 

Following his FDU team’s loss to Princeton on Sunday, head coach Greg Herenda spoke of the meeting with the Peacocks. Herenda knew Saint Peter’s had different personnel in key positions. No matter. Herenda also knew well that Saint Peter’s represented a battle, a well-coached team guaranteed to play hard and lay it all on the line. His assessment was spot on, as Saint Peter’s came away with a commanding 77-53 victory in front of a vociferously vocal Yanitelli Center crowd to even their season record at 3-3.

After falling behind early in the second half, FDU made a few overtures to get back in it. They trimmed their deficit to 14 points on a few occasions, but were unable to really establish a game-changing run, something Dunne praised as his team embodied its longtime style.  

“Coming into the season I had two major concerns, Dunne said. “Every coach has them, but mine were whether would we play hard and be unselfish.” 

Playing hard was manifested in a defense allowing FDU to shoot just 27 percent from the floor. In fact, in the last eight minutes, all the Knights could get offensively was a pair of Jahlil Jenkins field goals. Sharing the ball, Saint Peter’s made 14 assists on 30 field goal attempts. Dunne may look for a higher assist rate, but on this night, he was genuinely satisfied with the offense, one that produced some great perimeter looks following a succession of passes. 
    
“We are going to shoot threes,” he said. “It is who we are. When the threes go down, it opens up for our guards to drive and penetrate. Three-point shooting sets up your opportunities in the lane.”
    
Early on, as is always the case with three-point shooting, there were a few bumps in the road. Dunne looked back to the Peacocks’ loss to South Alabama ten days ago. 

“We took 40 threes,” Dunne said, “and 35 of those looks were wide open with the right people taking them. It was one of those games where shots did not fall.”
    
On Wednesday, they fell on 11 of their 26 attempts. The Peacocks put five players in double figures, with Nick Griffin’s 19 points.

“I am happy for the team,” Dunne said. “When you have a big crowd, it is great, but they expect you to play well. Tonight, the crowd was great, and so was the team effort.”
    
When Dunne speaks of unselfishness, it is not just sharing the ball. It is also personal for the good of the team, freshman guard Elijah Gonzales being an example. 

“Eli did not get in much the first few games,” Dunne said. “He kept coming to practice and working without a complaint. Against Lafayette, he got in and gave us a lift. Tonight he gave us another great effort.” Gonzales finished with 12 points in 21 solid minutes. “He sparked us tonight,” a proud Dunne asserted.
    
Dunne admits this team does not have the length of last year’s squad. Still, he likes what he sees. Beside Griffin, there is junior forward Sam Idowu (16 points Wednesday) and guard Davauhnte Turner (11 points, eight rebounds) to spearhead the retooling process

“We played well defensively,” Dunne said. “But there are things we need to clean up on defense. We have to stop fouling as much. We are getting there, and this team will continue to grow.” 
    
Winning while growing is a nice proposition. 

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