Saint Peter’s evened its MAAC record at 1-1 after a 47-point second half outburst propelled the Peacocks past Monmouth 77-64 Sunday afternoon.
Monmouth trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, but fought back to even the score at 30 headed to intermission. However, the Hawks failed to carry that momentum over to the second stanza as the Peacocks opened the half on a 25-6 run to open their largest lead of the game at with 11:47 left to play.
The Peacocks tallied 14 assists on 21 made field goals, their fourth game this season with as many dimes. In addition, Saint Peter’s improved to 4-0 on their home court at the Yanitelli Center this season.
“I thought we just played really well moving it, screening, sharing it, executing, being selfless and knocking down shots,” head coach John Dunne said. “Once we extended the lead, we did a really good job of taking time off the clock and executing down the stretch.”
Here are three thoughts on Saint Peters’ victory over Monmouth
1) No Hangover
Despite graduating its top defenders of a season ago, Saint Peter’s has not missed a beat on defense. Usually when a roster suffers as much turnover as Dunne’s squad did this past offseason expectations are at a low.
Saint Peter’s graduated MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Chazz Patterson, first team forward Quadir Welton, as well as guards Trevis Wyche and Cavon Baker. Then talented sophomore guard Antwon Portley chose to transfer to Fordham. Despite those losses, the Peacocks’ effective field goal percentage defense has improved from 48.1 percent last season to 47.9 percent this year.
“It all starts with the senior and upperclassman leadership,” Dunne said of the defensive mindset. “When you have a lot of new guys that really don’t understand the importance of the preparation – not just the importance of executing during the game but the preparation part of it – and they’ve got good leadership with the preparation, that’s where it starts. These guys take it seriously. They trust us as coaches, and they go out and work really hard to execute the game plan.”
The Peacocks asserted their defensive tenacity early and often against the Hawks. Although Monmouth put together a strong run in the middle of the first half to even the score at halftime, that run was sandwiched between superb defensive stretches from Saint Peter’s. The Peacocks held Monmouth to single digits over the first 9:40 to begin the game, and again for the first 8:52 after halftime.
“John’s known for defense,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “Part of what helps is there’s not as many possessions because they make you guard them. There’s the key. He locks you down, but you play defense against them for 22 seconds every time.”
2) Tough Road Ahead
Monmouth is not used to being 0-2 in conference play. In fact, the Hawks lost just two conference games all of last season and five total over the last two seasons. The Hawks also lost star guard Micah Seaborn to a sprained ankle during Sunday’s loss. Seaborn led the team with 14 points at the break, but played just three minutes in the second half before landing awkwardly.
Monmouth last began league play 0-2 in 2013-14, its first year in the MAAC. That season led to a 5-15 conference record and a first round exit in the MAAC tournament.
The bad news for Monmouth is the immediate road ahead isn’t very bright. The Hawks leave one of the league’s best defensive squads and head right into the mouth of another in Manhattan, whom Monmouth will face on Friday in West Long Branch with Seaborn’s status in question.
“We’ve got to be tough enough to play against Manhattan,” Rice said. “Let me tell you, their whole deal is to be the bullies and they’re gonna try to punk us. Steve [Masiello] is my friend, and we talk about it all the time. That’s one of his main things, is to be the more aggressive group and to come after your heart. I hope the wall around our heart gets some protection over these next four days, because they’re coming to take it. If you don’t stand up, they’ll leave your building not only with the win but your heart and everything else you’ve got.”
After Manhattan, Monmouth will head to western New York to take on Niagara and a surging Canisius team that has started conference play 2-0 with wins over Rider and Iona. The Hawks will return home from that trip to face Iona, concluding a gauntlet as tough as any team must face down to begin league play.
In order for Monmouth to pass that test and pick up its first league win in the process, it must find its fighting spirit.
“We’re not fighters right now this year; we’re just not the fighting group,” Rice added. “We’re the group that likes the nice things, but this group, we kind of got given these nice things by the last group. Right now, there’s not enough fight in us to defend, to try to be one of the top teams in the league. This is a big boy league. If you don’t come in the MAAC to out-fight someone, you’re going to have bad days.”
3) Secondary Options Emerging
Nick Griffin has carried the load for Saint Peter’s this season, leading the squad with 15.7 ppg. That average would be the highest for a Peacock player since Marvin Dominique averaged 16.6 ppg in 2013-14. Griffin played a solid role on last season’s senior-laden squad, averaging 8.8 ppg, but has clearly reached a new level.
“I think it really just comes down to just wanting to win,” Griffin said of his drive and role as a senior. “Me and Nnamdi [Enechionyia], this being our last year, we don’t want to have any regrets coming toward the end of the year. Just trying to win every game and be those leaders for the young guys. Just stepping up and trying to do the best we can each and every day.”
Despite Griffin’s success, one man does not make a team. Of late, the secondary options around Griffin have begun to carry a larger load on the offensive end. One such case Sunday was graduate forward Enechionyia, who knocked down a season-high 15 points including a 3-5 mark from three-point range to complement Griffin’s game-high 17.
“My shots were feeling pretty good, so I just put it up,” Enechionyia said. “It’s nice to get more time, more opportunity, so I just have to take advantage of it.”
Saint Peter’s was without redshirt junior Davauhnte Turner, who was held out Sunday due to disciplinary reasons. In his stead, freshman Elijah Gonzales continued to get a boost in minutes. Gonzales broke through with a season-high 16 points in Saint Peters’ league-opening loss at Fairfield last time out. Against Monmouth, Gonzales was held to just four points, but accounted for five of the Peacocks’ assists.
Cameron Jones also reached double figures Sunday, ending the afternoon with 10 points. It was the second time the redshirt sophomore has landed in double figures this season, and another example of the surprising depth Saint Peter’s is able to muster just a season after losing a wealth of experienced talent.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.