For everything Saint Peter’s has been through this season – injuries and struggling to score at times among them – the Peacocks looked very much like the team picked to compete in the MAAC when they controlled their 68-59 MAAC semifinal win over Rider.
After Jamel Fields drained a three-pointer from the right wing to put the Peacocks up 3-2, they never trailed as they eliminated the second seed.
“I’m just really proud of these guys, not just because we won, but through the course of this year, when stuff wasn’t going well for us throughout games we were too quick to hang our head,” head coach John Dunne said. “These guys didn’t drop their heads and we just kept playing and we stayed focused.”
Senior Desi Washington scored 12 of his game-high 22 points in the first half, but the Broncs were not going to be denied a chance to move to the semifinals after being down 34-20 at halftime. Rider went on a 12-1 run to open the half, but three-pointers from Marvin Dominique on back to back possessions put Saint Peter’s up 10.
“We had a lot of ups and downs, it’s easy for our team to fall apart,” Washington said. “We knew they were going to make a run, the biggest thing for us was to stick together, stay together during their run and to weather the storm.”
The urgency began to pick up for the Peacocks since senior day, when players like Washington and Dominique have started to realize their careers may be down to the minutes on the clock.
“We’re here to win and we’re going to do whatever we can to win,” Dominique said. “This is our senior year, me, Desi and a couple of guys on our team. We believe in ourselves throughout the whole season and we know we went through a couple of things during the season, but we’re here to stay.”
Saint Peter’s was rarely phased by Rider’s pressure and managed to make eight three-pointers, but more importantly shut out the Broncs guards from the three-point line.
“We knew they were going to rely on Okereafor’s ball screens and we figured if we could control that then we’d have a decent chance to win,” Dunne said. “If we didn’t let them score a lot in transition, we gave them some easy baskets in the second half, we made it interesting, but I thought for the most part for 40 minutes our ball screen defense was pretty good.”
Jimmie Taylor and Khalil Alford shared the scoring lead for the Broncs with 10 a piece, but Rider managed to make just four of their 20 three-point shot attempts.
Having started on Thursday against Fairfield, Saint Peter’s reaches the MAAC semifinals on Sunday for the first time since 2011, when they won the league’s automatic bid over Iona. The Gaels are on the other side of the bracket this season too, which could bode well for these seniors who advance to the semifinals for the first time.
“It’s going to be another big game for us,” Washington said of Sunday’s semifinal game. “Our season is on the line, our senior season, and we’re having fun, but we’re not ready to go home yet.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.