By Kevin Sweeney
In March basketball, it doesn’t need to be pretty.
The final 10 minutes didn’t go as St. Peter’s drew them up, but in the end, the Peacocks survived for a 61-58 victory over 7th-seeded Canisius in a quarterfinal matchup of the MAAC Tournament in Albany, NY.
In a game that pitted 2 squads who play contrasting styles, the Peacocks were able to impose their slow, grind-it-out style on the Golden Griffins. Canisius was out-of-sorts offensively as they tried to adjust to the St. Peter’s defense, as they were held to a season-low 25 first half points. Meanwhile, Saint Peter’s executed crisply on offense, turning it over just 3 times and shooting 50% from the field. Despite that, Canisius went into halftime down just 5.
Coming out of halfime, Saint Peter’s was full of energy, while Canisius seemed flat and unmotivated. The Peacocks started the half on a 12-0 run to take its largest lead of 17 with just over 16 minutes to go. Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon was disgusted, calling timeout and pulling 4 of his 5 starters. The only one he left in was freshman point guard Malik Johnson. It was the younger guys who gave the Golden Griffins the spark it needed to start a comeback. They amped up the pressure on the defensive end and slowly chipped away at the deficit. A usually-composed Peacocks team seemed to lose its composure, turning it over many times and playing sloppily.
“They [Canisius] amped up their energy, they took us out of rhythm. But at the end of the day, we feel good about moving on.” said John Dunne, per @DalyDoseOfHoops/Twitter.
The Peacocks continued to trim the lead from double figures, to 8, to 5, then eventually to just 1 possession the final minutes.
Consecutive 3’s by Isaiah Reese (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Jermaine Crumpton (18 points) finally cut the deficit to just 1 with under a minute to play. But senior point guard Trevis Wyche drove fearlessly to the rim and finished in traffic to give SPC a 3 point lead. Reese and Crumpton each had a chance to tie it in the final seconds, but their 3’s rimmed out.
St. Peter’s advances to take on the winner of Iona and Rider Sunday at 7pm. They were led by Quadir Welton’s 15 points and 9 rebounds and Wyche’s 10 points.
Canisius didn’t get much production from a pair of veterans in Phil Valenti and Kassius Robertson. Valenti was saddled to the bench most of the night with foul trouble, and Robertson, who averages over 16 points per game, played sparingly in the second half in favor of younger players who were playing harder.