John Dunne and Saint Peter's take two-game win streak into Albany to begin MAAC Tournament, giving longtime Peacocks head coach signs of encouragement as postseason begins Thursday. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
In the wake of graduating four seniors instrumental in the program's first-ever postseason championship, John Dunne knew it was not going to be an easy rebuild in Jersey City, yet remained upbeat as Saint Peter's began the road back to prominence in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Almost eleven months to the day of the championship game of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, the Peacocks' record may not have been in line with what the program's 12th-year head coach desired going into the year, but the effort has been far beyond a simple description of satisfactory.
"We felt like we had a good core returning and some nice pieces joining the program," Dunne said as Saint Peter's (12-17) heads into Albany to begin the MAAC Tournament, contesting the first of three opening-round games Thursday evening against in-state rival Monmouth at 5 p.m. "We thought we'd be in a little bit better position with the record, but we feel we had a competitive spirit through the MAAC season. I think really, you look at maybe one or two MAAC games where we were subpar defensively, but I would say in most of them, we really competed on the defensive end. We've been shooting the ball better right now, but we're still trying to grind on the defensive end, and we're feeling pretty good."
"For us, it comes down to trying to be low-turnover," he elaborated. "Usually when we're low-turnover, we're right in games. And then you've got to shoot the ball. Defense doesn't win, balance wins."
While much of the attention on the Peacocks is focused on their rigid and suffocating defense, Dunne has received significant contributions on the offensive end, led chiefly by senior guard Nick Griffin and the continued emergence of forwards Sam Idowu and Quinn Taylor. As of late, a fourth option has joined the fray, freshman Elijah Gonzales, who arose from backup point guard to starting floor general as a result of his dedication and hustle.
"What I loved about him is when he wasn't playing early in the year, he never pouted, he never put his head down," said Dunne of Gonzales. "He never felt like it was his right to be on the court and have the ball in his hands. All he did every day was work, even when he wasn't playing. He seized the moment and played really well, and eventually we started starting him because he's a guy that gets other guys baskets."
"He makes up for his height with energy, deflections, (and) steals," Dunne said. "He's just a tough kid, and we're happy to have him."
Saint Peter's enters a rubber match with Monmouth on the heels of two controlling victories over Quinnipiac and Siena, each being held under 50 points as the Peacocks clamped down and tightened the screws on the defensive end. But after defeating the Hawks in Jersey City and then coming away on the losing end in West Long Branch, Dunne is aware that the offensive aspect of the basketball cannot be ignored, especially with Micah Seaborn back in full swing for a Monmouth team that had his services for less than 25 of the 80 total minutes the two schools competed against one another.
"We're going into a big battle, considering we had won in our gym and had our guys ready to play," said Dunne. "Their guys gave it to us in the second half in their arena, so I anticipate a grind-it-out game. Both teams are going to play hard, give an extra effort, and try to defend. At the end of the day, we've got to get the ball in the basket. We did that the last two games, and we're heading to Albany with some confidence."