Saint Peter’s Getting Hot At Right Time In Win Over Rider

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.

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Saint Peter’s head coach John Dunne (center) and the Peacocks advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2011.

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.

Monmouth Earns First Playoff Win For King Rice

Monmouth held off a late surge from Canisius Saturday afternoon to earn a 60-54 win over the Golden Griffins and move on to the MAAC semifinals Sunday afternoon. Justin Robinson proved his worth as an all-MAAC first team member, leading four Hawks in double figures with 16 points. Continue reading

Three Thoughts: Iona 74, Siena 71

Iona coach Tim Cluess was trying to direct his team’s offense, which was right in front him, but instead just looked exasperated. His team’s seemingly insurmountable second-half lead has all but evaporated, now down to 3 with four minutes left, and the Gaels’ offense – 40th nationally in efficiency – but not so long ago in the top 15 – was stagnant again, even against the 332nd ranked defense in Siena. Continue reading

Cold Shooting Dooms Harvard In Ivy Title Showdown

Basketball is a funny sport to analyze. Over the past four months, we’ve all spent countless hours debating Harvard and Yale as championship contenders. This week, Ray and I exchanged 1,500 words previewing Friday’s matchup. And ultimately, the de facto title game — and the biggest Ivy League contest in four years, a college generation — was decided in large part by who made their three-pointers that night.

Playing at home with a chance to secure its fifth straight Ivy title, Harvard went just 2-17 from three-point range. The Crimson hasn’t been very prolific from beyond the arc all year, but their shots against Yale came mostly from their best shooters in good positions. Corbin Miller, a career 41% shooter from distance, went 0-8 on Friday. Siyani Chambers, 37% for his career, went 1-6. With the exception of two heaves late in the shot clock, most of Harvard’s attempts were open and in rhythm.

Meanwhile, Yale went 7-16 from beyond the arc, even though top shooter Jack Montague was bottled up for most of the game.

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As if to underscore basketball’s randomness, Yale forward Justin Sears made his first two three-pointers of the year — both awkward line drives that snuck over the rim — at the best possible time.

“I thought we had a ton of shots. We just didn’t make them. I don’t know what else to say,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.

None of that means Yale didn’t deserve to win. The Bulldogs put themselves in position to take advantage of Harvard’s drought, scoring 1.05 points per possession against the league’s best defense. Javier Duren constantly frustrated the Crimson, getting his 22 points on a combination of tough floaters and three-pointers, including a dagger from 23 feet in the final two minutes.

On the other end, the Bulldogs sent double-teams aggressively on the perimeter and in the post, which paid off when Harvard’s big men didn’t make the right passes. Zena Edosomwan played only nine minutes after missing four early shots in the face of Yale pressure.

Still, if Miller makes two or three of his treys, and if Chambers hits another — bringing both in line with their career marks — then a 10-point margin becomes a toss-up. Miller in particular had a rough night: Chambers and Wesley Saunders found him time after time, in transition and from kick-outs, sticking with their guns even as Miller struggled (as they should). But the sophomore’s shots kept finding the top of the rim, as he missed eight treys and another long jumper.

“He’s our marksman, our three-point guy, and what a tough night for him. Of his nine shots, only one I know for sure was forced or a bad shot,” Amaker said. “Boy, did he get some looks that we would kill to have for him tomorrow night, and I know he’s going to be better than he was tonight.”

Harvard’s loss overshadowed a dominant game from Steve Moundou-Missi. As in the first meeting, Moundou-Missi kept Justin Sears quiet: Sears got only one shot at the rim, which came off his only offensive rebound, and needed his two surprising treys to reach 10 points. And on the other end, the senior attacked Sears fearlessly, scoring 21 points on a combination of face-up jumpers, physical drives and put-backs from 10 rebounds.

“He was one of the few people out there who really battled, and I think he left it all out there on the floor,” Saunders said. “He was trying to spark us and get us energized, but we never really caught on.”

Harvard trailed 22-19 at halftime — not much prettier than the 16-11 score in the first meeting — but Yale ballooned its lead to 12 points, thanks to second-chance points from Armani Cotton (who finished with 14) and Sears. The hosts made several small runs, but each was answered by the Bulldogs — an athletic putback and-one from Khaliq Ghani here, a patented Matt Townsend two-point jumper there. Duren was perfect on free throws down the stretch, slowly hammering the penultimate nail in Harvard’s coffin.

Harvard’s only path to a fifth straight Ivy title is a win over Brown tomorrow night and a Yale loss at Dartmouth. (The latter is hardly a longshot, as the Big Green has won five of its last six.) If that parlay hits, Harvard and Yale will play a rubber match at The Palestra next week to determine the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament.

And though Friday’s loss was devastating, the Crimson has received help in the past. In 2012, they lost at home to Penn with two games remaining, avoiding a playoff only when Princeton beat the Quakers in the season finale. In 2013, they were swept at Princeton and Penn in early March, regaining control of their own destiny only when the Tigers were swept the following weekend.

So Harvard’s hopes for a fourth straight tournament bid are on life support. But they’re not dashed yet.

“We just have to take care of business tomorrow and see where the chips fall,” Saunders said. “Crazier stuff has happened.”

Yale Stuns Harvard, But Ivy Job Not Quite Done Yet

To paraphrase the immortal Jake Taylor, “Yale ain’t won nothin’ yet, they still have one more to go.”

Such is the awkwardness of the 14-game Ivy League Tournament that even after a 62-52 win at Lavietes Pavilion over four-time defending Ivy champ Harvard, their job is not quite done yet.

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