The Yanitelli Center, the facility St. Peter's College calls home, is located just off Kennedy Boulevard. The center was opened in 1975 and named for Victor Yanitelli, SJ, the school's 17th president. One website noted two major events that had taken place at Yanitelli:
1. January 8th of 2009, there was a rally in support of Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
2. November 17 of 2009 saw St. Peter's host, and defeat, Monmouth University in a game that started at 6 AM, as part of an ESPN's marathon.
St. Peter's, for years, has prided itself on good education in the Jesuit tradition and a 'do-more-with-less' approach on the basketball court. The 'diamonds in the rough', the under-recruited and those out to prove the big boys they made a mistake in not pursuing them have found a home at St. Peter's. And flourished. The poster child in this long list of such players is arguably Keydren Clark. 'Kee Kee' starred at now-closed Rice High School in the fiercely competitive New York City Catholic League. Generously listed at 5-foot-11, Clark was told by many a school that he was a nice player, but too small to survive at Division I. All Clark did was find a home across the Hudson River and go on to score over 3,000 points in an illustrious career from 2002 to 2006.
Last year, coach John Dunne's veteran club got hot in early March en route to winning the MAAC postseason tournament. The banners on the Yanitelli walls tell visitors that St. Peter's has experienced good times and championships frequently in the past. The 1968 NIT team, featuring Elnardo Webster, upset 10th-ranked Duke en route to a fourth-place finish. It was a run that captivated the loving fans of this city. In fact, the local fans, students and alumni take to St. Peter's with a strong devotion. During my own high school days in the late sixties, the 'run, baby, run' teams of the late Don Kennedy were my favorites among collegiate teams.
St. Peter's played their games at the Jersey City Armory, two blocks east of the campus. When Yanitelli opened, the home court was now in the focal point of the school. Yanitelli seats around 3,000, but is completely a bleacher-seating facility. Some home courts have predominantly bleachers with several rows of regular, chair-style seating. Not here, but no one really complains.
As I get pregame notes and stats at the press table, St. Peter's athletic director Joe Quinlan says hello and reminds that tonight there are two teams with quite unique nicknames, the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh and St. Peter's Peacocks. In the room with media refreshments, one gentleman searches all six pizza boxes, probably in a quest for pepperoni or sausage. He finds they are all plain, grabs a plate and digs in.
On this evening, St. Peter's will have a test with a good Lehigh team. The Mountain Hawks are 9-4. Earlier they gave St. John's a tough game before losing at Carnesecca Arena. Recently they defeated Wagner on the road. The same Wagner who later went on to defeat Pitt on their home court. St. Peter's is struggling, trying to get back on track and improving a dismal 2-10 slate.
The first two possessions Lehigh goes inside/out. A post move followed by a three-pointer makes it 5-0 Lehigh. St. Peter's answers with a 6-0 run, and for the better part of the half holds an upper hand. At the half, it is 34-34 thanks to a late Lehigh run. A bad sign, as St. Peter's played well, but has only a tie score to show for their 20-minute effort.
A halftime chat with a local high school girls coach Tom Ferreira and Mike Hogan. Both avid hoop fans, they tell me about the trials and tribulations of New York traffic in venturing to Carnesecca Arena last night for St. John's.
Lehigh gets out to a 12-4 run early in the second half, and never relinquishes the lead. "Where is the foul? You are ridiculous," bellows a fan a few rows behind the press table. To her left, in a nice show of support, are members of the St. Peter's women's team. The men attend their games, schedule permitting, in a nice show of support. And the women are not hollering at the officials.
St. Peter's had it to a two-possession contest with under 90 seconds left, but you had the feeling coach Brett Reed had his team in complete control. Lehigh hits their late trips to the charity stripe to ice the 76-67 victory.
A big factor in the second half was C.J. McCollum of Lehigh. He saw a box-and-one and other defensive looks the first half, scoring only eight points. The second half, the junior guard gets on track, finishing with a game-high 22 points. McCollum did have six turnovers, thanks to some good defense, but did add five assists and 11 boards.
St. Peter's received solid inside work from Darius Conley with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Lamin Fulton also had 16. His scoring of late is an encouraging sign, as St. Peter's enters MAAC play in earnest following the New Year.
After getting final stats, I say goodbye to the St. Peter's media relations staff, already preparing for a women's tournament tomorrow. In the bleachers, family and friends wait for players, none too anxious to exit into a very cold, windy night.
LEHIGH 76, at SAINT PETER'S 67 12/28/2011
LEHIGH 10-4 (0-0) -- C. McCollum 6-14 9-13 22; H. Greiner 6-12 3-5 19; G. Knutson 3-8 4-5 10; M. McKnight 3-4 1-1 8; J. Hamilton 2-3 0-0 5; C. Schaefer 0-0 6-6 6; J. Adams 0-1 1-2 1; A. D'Orazio 1-2 0-0 3; J. Maneri 1-2 0-0 2; S. Cvrkalj 0-0 0-0 0; C. Baltimore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-46 24-32 76. SAINT PETER'S 2-11 (1-1) -- L. Fulton 7-15 0-0 16; C. Burke 5-9 1-2 12; C. Prescott 4-10 2-3 11; D. Conley 8-13 0-1 16; B. Ffrench 1-4 2-4 4; M. Tucker 3-5 0-0 6; B. Hall 0-1 0-0 0; Y. Raymond 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 29-60 5-10 67.
Three-point goals: LEH 8-18 (J. Adams 0-1; J. Hamilton 1-2; H. Greiner 4-7; C. McCollum 1-5; A. D'orazio 1-2; M. McKnight 1-1), SPC 4-17 (C. Prescott 1-6; B. Hall 0-1; Y. Raymond 0-1; C. Burke 1-2; L. Fulton 2-7); Rebounds: LEH 29 (C. McCollum 11), SPC 29 (D. Conley 10); Assists: LEH 12 (C. McCollum 5), SPC 16 (B. Ffrench 4); Total Fouls -- LEH 15, SPC 24; Fouled Out: LEH-None; SPC-L. Fulton.