Saint Peter’s finished the regular season 12-17 overall with a 6-12 league record and will enter the MAAC tournament as the #9 seed. The Peacocks will play in the tournament’s opening game against #8 seed Monmouth Thursday at 5:00.
Despite a great deal of turnover from its CIT-winning roster last season, Saint Peter’s got off to a solid start in 2017-18. The Peacocks capped off the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 6-5 record and began MAAC play 2-2, but a six-game losing streak derailed a season in which they appeared to defy expectations. Saint Peter’s and Monmouth split the season series with each team winning by double digits on their home court.
Player To Watch: #0 Nick Griffin, Sr. G
Peacocks are flashy birds, but flashy play is not Saint Peters’ style. The Peacocks are known for dragging things out and making all 40 minutes a slog. According to KenPom.com, Saint Peter’s plays at the fourth-slowest adjusted tempo in the nation, and has been among the 25 slowest programs in Division I each of the last five seasons.
Saint Peter’s was the lone team not to have anyone named to an All-MAAC squad, but taking a cue from their head coach, the Peacocks are remaining even-keeled heading into Albany despite the ups and downs behind them
“For us, clearly there was some rebuilding going on,” head coach John Dunne said. “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. You look at maybe one or two MAAC games where we were subpar defensively, but I would say most of them we really competed on the defensive end really well.”
The Peacocks have played well defensively, especially to end the regular season. In their final two games against Quinnipiac and Siena, the Peacocks held each opponent to under 50 points. Saint Peter’s owns the best defensive efficiency in the MAAC as well as the best mark inside the arc, allowing opponents to convert just 46.6% on two-pointers.
Straight-up defense is a team strength, but the Peacocks have also developed a penchant for forcing turnovers. Saint Peter’s ranks among the top 30 nationally with a 21.7% defensive turnover percentage, and leads the MAAC with a 10.7% steal percentage.
For as good as the Peacocks’ defense has been, its spotty offense has repeatedly held the team back. Saint Peter’s ranks 10th in the MAAC in both offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage, and while its 74.7% free throw percentage leads the league, the Peacocks get to the line less often than any other MAAC squad.
Senior guard Nick Griffin leads the Peacocks with 12.6 ppg while junior Davauhnte Turner boosts the backcourt with 10.9 ppg, but both have struggled to close the regular season. Despite his team winning its last two games, Griffin was 3-13 from the field for a combined nine points against Quinnipiac and Siena while Turner is just 3-14 for nine points over his last four games.
Although both have struggled of late, either player is capable of exploding for 20+ points at any point this weekend.
Also lurking in the backcourt is freshman point guard Elijah Gonzales, who leads the team with 3.0 assists per game along with his 6.5 ppg average. Gonzales has been thrown into the fire this season, but scored double digits in his last two games along with a personal-best 10 assists in the season finale against Siena for his first career double-double.
“He’s got ridiculously good enthusiasm and energy, and then he got his opportunity in the [fifth] game of the year up at Lafayette,” Dunne said of Gonzales. “He seized the moment and played really well, and eventually we started starting him because he’s a guy that gets other guys baskets, not just looking for his own.”
Junior forward Sam Idowu holds down the frontcourt for the Peacocks, and will be heavily relied upon against Monmouth’s slew of big men. Idowu averages 11.1 ppg while his 5.7 rpg are tied for the team lead with Quinn Taylor. Over his last five games, Idowu has hit double figures four times with a pair of double-doubles to his credit.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.