Tag:St. Peter's
Posted on: March 8, 2011 12:28 am
Edited on: March 8, 2011 1:54 am

Welcome to the Dance, St. Peter's Peacocks

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — This team hated each other.

We're not talking a rip-a-group-apart hate, but a brotherly hate. The kind of hate that just sits and stews, one that eventually subsides, but not before words need to be had.

As healthy a hate as hate can be. That was St. Peter's in 2009 and 2010: a group determined to one-up each other in practice and try to beat each other before it worried about beating other teams. This behavior went beyond a healthy, competitive spirit. It was stagnating the growth of its team, but in particular, the 2011 class, made partly up of Ryan Bacon, Nick Leon, Wesley Jenkins and Jeron Belin.

Then they became seniors. Then they realized they'd get nowhere in the MAAC if they didn't listen and trust their coach.

Those four men were the ones sitting with head coach John Dunne at the postgame press conference after fourth-ranked St. Peter's upset No. 2 Iona to win the MAAC championship Monday night, 62-57.

"Every day we had an argument," Leon said. "We had to fight with each other, we hated each other, but at the end of the day, it grew a big bond within the whole team."

Belin described the situation as "horrible" for long stretches of time. They simply fought over everything, basketball-related or not. You could say it's a wonder the team wasn't a victim of more transfers, especially in this jettison-frenzied era of college basketball.

"Little stuff," said Leon of the inspiration for a lot of the arguments. "Everyone was trying to be a coach. Instead of letting [Dunne] coach, we tried to coach ourselves."

The players took the packed media room through their rise of the past few years. It was a stretch that included many multiple-game losing streaks. Even before the MAAC tournament began this year, few considered the Peacocks' slog-you-down style to last three rounds.

"It was tough for us," Leon said. "We was a program that was rebuilding. We just kept faith. After losing 18 games in a row, we kept faith. The master [Dunne], you know, he put the pieces together and we just put it together as a family, as a team."

Dunne had to convince the team they weren't as fast as they thought they were. He had to make them believe that winning games in the 50s was the best way to succeed. Eventually, they bought in, and the coach praised his group for doing that, when it would have been just as easy not to.

"Togetherness, that's what it was," Belin said. "Everybody playing their part. Whether you played 20 minutes, one minute, you came in and did what you had do to."

St. Peter's is making its third appearance in the NCAAs, and it has never won a game. But that doesn't much matter right now. This was the first 20-win season for the group since 20 years. It's most definitely house money. It's very possible nobody in that program believed an NCAA berth was coming back in November. Dunne admitted as much, postgame.

Despite beating Alabama on a neutral floor, the team wasn't coming together as one normally does with so many seniors seeing so many minutes. Jenkins was thought to be lost for the season twice with hyper-extended knee injuries, and after an "embarrassing" loss to Iona (Dunne's words), the team was 8-7. St. Peter's coach admitted he wasn't sure this team had the capability to win this conference. After beating Rider on Jan. 29 to improve to 13-9, that's when he started to beileve.

"Attitude won us this championship," Dunne said.

This is a team that's one of the staunchest defensive groups in the country. You can't get that without attitude.

Attitude is what made the Peacocks hold a team that averages 80 points a game to 57 in a conference title game, where its fans were outnumbered by Iona's to the tune of a four-to-one ratio. But attitude helped pushed the Peacocks past that. It's now a positive one. Now, when a player hits the deck — something that happens, oh, 20 times per game — for the Peacocks, everyone's in a rush to help their fallen teammate up.

No more arguments, no more fighting, no more hate.

"We're the new Butler," Belin said afterward, a huge grin on his face.

Player to Watch: Wesley Jenkins. It's tough to pick a player out of this group, but Jenkins is definitely exciting. He's a spark for this team, no doubt. Jenkins has a slight frame but is just as tough-minded as the rest of his teammates. Whoever gets the Peacocks in the first round is going to feel like it's playing through mud.

Team Vitals

Record: (20-13, 14-7)

Team Colors:  Blue and White

We’re Thinking: 15 seed

Kenpom Ranking: 123

RPI: 96

Best win: Neutral vs. 20-10 Alabama (50-49)

Worst loss: Home vs. 15-15 Loyola (65-63)

Most recent tournament history: 1995 (15 seed, lost to UMass, 68-51, in first round)

Finally, some one-on-one video from tonight. The first is my interview with Dunne, the second with Jenkins. The dance-off in the hotel hallway with Iona is brought up. With Jenkins, that is.

Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP

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Posted on: March 7, 2011 9:30 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2011 9:32 pm

Video: St. Peter's emotional on-court celebration

Posted by Matt Norlander

Few words to write. Just watch the moving pictures and know no month tops March. I did my best to navigate about the floor and get as much as possible. Checks in at an even three minutes.

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2011 5:35 pm

On site: No. 1 Fairfield upset in MAAC semis

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Top seeds go down with regularity in small-conference tournaments. But how often do we see a team get clipped like Fairfield did … in the semifinals?

The No. 1 Stags lost on their home floor Sunday afternoon, falling to the fourth seed in the MAAC tournament, St. Peter’s, 62-48. The Peacocks possess the third-best effective field goal percentage defense in the country. So trying to come back from 25 down against them can feel like 40 against any other MAAC squad.

The deficit was too much for the Stags, who will be going to the NIT by virtue of winning the regular-season MAAC championship. St. Peter’s will get the chance to play for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1995 Monday night at 7 p.m. It’ll face the winner of Iona-Rider, which I’m settling in to watch now at the Arena at Harbor Yard. It’s the first conference title-game appearance for the Peacocks since 2006.

“What has hurt us the entire year — we talked about habits, we talked about habits the first team meeting this September when we came back to school — and I think our team habits really caught us in the end,” Fairfield coach Cooley said. “Our team habits: when we turn the ball over. … Our devil is turning the ball over.”

For the majority of the second half, the Stags surged. They didn’t allow the Peacocks to score their fourth point until 7:56 remained in the game.

“Not have a meltdown and let them just take over the second half,” Wes Jenkins said of the Peacocks’ hang-on-and-win strategy. “We need our first basket to get the rhythm going. (Jeron) Belin got it from us, and we went from there.”

Belin’s basket made it a 44-36 game. Holding such a large lead was unfamiliar territory for St. Peter’s, head coach John Dunne said.

“We haven’t been in that position where we’re playing a great team — and they are — and we’re up so big,” Dunne said. “Emotionally, maybe we had a little bit of a letdown, and we weren’t focused enough.”

Today was the first loss to St. Peter’s in Cooley’s tenure. He was measured, but unhappy, in the postgame presser.

“I’m not stunned. They are kids,” Cooley said of the 40-15 halftime deficit. “You can’t get down 25 in tournament play and expect to win. That’s for damn sure.”

Was Dunne surprised by the 40-15 lead?

“No question, absolutely,” he said.

Nearly the entire building was shocked. St. Peter’s was physical and went to the hoop at will. Not only did turnovers hamper the Stags, the Peacocks’ affection for plays in the paint kept Fairfield at a standstill.

“The first 20 minutes, we just weren’t ready to play,” Cooley said. “We were listless, we didn’t play with a lot of emotion. Really, we were out of character as a group.”

Fairfield’s a team that could’ve flirted with a 13 seed had it won. Sophomore point guard Derek Needham sat in the postgame press conference, arched over, practically furled into a quasi-fetal position. Whenever a question wasn’t addressed to him, his forehead was smack-flat on the table. No tears, just disbelief. His responses to questions were barely audible.

  “They were who they were. That’s how they play every single game,” Cooley said. “We weren’t who we were.”

As far as moving forward to the NIT, Cooley said he’s not even “a little bit” thinking about pride in regard to making the NIT.

“Going into the season that was clearly not our goal. That will never be our goal,” Cooley said. “We feel we built a championship team with our recruiting.”

With a MAAC and NCAA championship off the table, the fifth-year Fairfield coach will have to settle for chasing an NIT one.

Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP

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