Game #9-341: Fairfield Stags at Saint Peter`s PeacocksJanuary 27, 2013 2:00 pm
JERSEY CITY, N.J. - Jersey City is New Jersey's second-biggest municipality, at least in terms of population, probably topping 250,000 by now (it was getting close
to that number in the 2010 Census). Like many other urban areas in America, it has enjoyed a slight resurgence in the last couple of decades, things are much cleaner, a tad safer statistically.
But, let's be honest, directly across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan, it's not exactly a huge tourist destination, although the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
are actually much closer to Jersey City than Manhattan. As Jersey City tourism pleads, "virtually no lines on the Jersey City side".
From Connecticut, the most direct route would be to go through Manhattan and the Holland Tunnel (a tremendous engineering fea
t, built nearly a century ago), which spits you out in Jersey City, but that's a nightmare, even on a Sunday afternoon.
I got to Saint Peter's early, and got to walk around the neighborhood. Jersey City has become an enclave for Indian-Americans (as opposed to Native Americans), with the latest census putting Indians at more than a tenth of the city's population. I was hungry and came across this place, with a sign that said "Deli-Liquors". An interesting combination, I thought.
Sure enough, I was able to get a turkey sandwich on a roll. As I was walking out and back toward Saint Peter's, the man behind me in line questioned, "I'm looking for the best brandy in town, can you help me?"
John Dunne kind of stumbled upon his first Division I head coaching gig. He was an assistant at Seton Hall for five seasons, but was let go in 2006 when head coach Louis Orr was. He wanted to stay somewhere close to home in New Jersey, and Saint Peter's had an opening.
We love all the schools below the Red Line, but even by MAAC standards, Saint Peter's can be a tough sell. It's an urban campus
without much flair (it does have a pretty cool bridge across Kennedy Boulevard that connects the two parts of the campus). It's gym, the Yanitelli Center (excuse me, Yanitelli Life and Recreation Center), features the dreaded Wooden Bleachers (which may be the Black Curtain of Season 9, I can't believe Division I college gyms have them in 2013), although you can get rowing lessons in the pool adjacent to them.
On the way in, I happened to be behind the Saint Peter's tennis coach with a potential recruit on a visit. I wanted to ask him where the tennis courts actually were on campus, but I thought that might look bad.
Despite this, Dunne improved the Peacocks' record in each of his first five seasons, culminating in a remarkable March run two years ago, as Dunne knocked off Jimmy Patsos in the quarterfinals before stunning top-seeded Fairfield at home (much to the dismay of the Black Curtain
) with one of the stingiest defensive performances you'll ever see in the semifinals. Saint Peter's shut down favored Iona in the finals, and was headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 seasons.
To the victor goes the spoils, and Dunne - deservedly - got plenty of great press for his reclamation project
But while the coach of the team he vanquished in the semifinals, Ed Cooley, jumped the Red Line, Dunne signed a contract extension through 2016
His record since then is 11-40 (5-24 in the MAAC).
All glory is fleeting, after all.
Dunne looked particularly desperate on Sunday afternoon against Fairfield. The final crowd at the Yanitelli Center was announced at 1,187, but 500 or so of those were Fairfield fans and I think another 200 were the guys learning how to row next door.
Saint Peter's, losers of eight straight coming in, all of them in conference, got off to a solid start. The Stags have had trouble shooting the ball, and were ice cold to start the proceedings. When Markese Tucker (listed at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, but had to be a few pounds more than that) showed nice touch and followed with a steal that led to a Chris Burke layup, the Peacocks led 12-6 and forced Sydney Johnson to burn a time out eight minutes into the contest.
Just two minutes later, though, things unraveled for Dunne and his team. Leading 14-10, the Peacocks couldn't gave Fairfield three chances on the defensive end. Making matters intolerable for Dunne is that both offensive rebounds for the Stags came from Desmond Wade, who is 5-foot-8 on a good day (Wade ended up with 10 rebounds in the game, six on the offensive end).
Given the extra opportunity, Derek Needham buried a superhoop from the left corner.
Immediately, Dunne called time and screamed so loud that the Yanitelli Center went silent. Granted, it wasn't exactly raucous in there to begin with, but still. The motivational tactic didn't work anyway, Saint Peter's turned it over on the next two possessions leading to Fairfield run-outs, and the Stags had the lead for the rest of the first half, although it was only 28-24 at the break.
The second half was surely more torture for Dunne. His team battled, but just couldn't get anything going offensively, at least consistently, especially from the outside. It's not exactly a young roster, Dunne's best players on this afternoon were seniors: Yvon Raymond, Darius Conley, and Blaise Ffrench (I actually looked up the surname Ffrench, and it's of Irish origin, learn something new every day), which also has to add to the stress of losing, although he does have a couple of transfers (including one from Fairfield in Jamel Fields, ironically) that won't be eligible until next season.
Like a bullfighter trying to keep the crowd interested, Fairfield couldn't quite put Saint Peter's away, but was able to keep them at bay, for the first 12 minutes of the second half, the Stags never led by double-digits but never less than four, either.
With eight minutes left, Raymond had cut the Fairfield lead to 44-38 and they had a tremendous ensuing possession. The shot clock was nearing zero and Wade - not normally a great shooter - had the ball 30 feet from the basket. He dribbled once or twice, tried to get his defender in the air but failed, and heaved a line drive as the buzzer went off.
It somehow went in. Of course it did, Dunne surely muttered as he put his arms over his head.
Trailing by 12 with under two minutes left, the Peacocks scored eight straight points to get it back to four, and actually got the ball back. But Conley's turnaround with 30 seconds left wouldn't drop and that was that. It was another big tease for Saint Peter's.
However, it was another big win for Fairfield, who is looking to avoid the dreaded first Friday of the MAAC Tournament in a few weeks that features seeds seven through 10. Saint Peter's lost on that day last season, and seems to be virtually guaranteed another date with it this season.
As I insinuated last March and a few times this year, I don't come here to ridicule or belittle anyone. Dunne is the same coach he was when all those stories were written about him less than two years ago. But losing hurts and doing so repeatedly can be unbearable for people who pour their lives into Our Game.
Last year, I mentioned assistant coach Dalip Bhatia, which in light of the Indian statistics in Jersey City, is even more interesting.
But, for whatever reason, Bhatia was not quite an energetic this year when I saw him as last. It's hard to draw too many conclusions from one viewing per year, obviously, but who knows?
Saint Peter's still has half of a MAAC season to turn things around. As I said, they are senior led, and they started the campaign with a Red Line upset of Rutgers and did beat defending regular season MAAC champ Iona in its conference opener before embarking on this losing streak. Maybe I'll be writing about the upsets the Peacocks are pulling in Springfield in a few weeks.
On January 27th, though, it didn't look very likely (although Saint Peter's does have a few games against the bottom of the MAAC left as well). Dunne, despite his frustration, took the time to acknowledge the crowd and a couple of VIPs before making his way to the locker room.
As we move closer and closer to March, we'll devote more and more space to the victors, those living the dream of getting to the promised land, the NCAA Tournament. Saint Peter's has seen that promised land, and it wasn't very long ago.
Time as it relates to a basketball season can be very relative, though.
Dunne had an interesting quote in March of 2011 about recruiting to Saint Peter's: "I don't buy into that 'toughest job' thing. At the end of the day sometimes you ... it's the people within the building, not the building that make the difference. I care about these guys. I'd go to war for these guys. We might have our differences but we stick together. These guys have always persevered and it just comes down to people. You don't have to have the nicest house on the block. I think our guys like Saint Peter's. I think we have great people."
Sticking together through thick and thin, but Dunne and Saint Peter's hope it doesn't get much thinner in the next few weeks.
FAIRFIELD 61, at SAINT PETER`S 54
FAIRFIELD 12-10 (4-6) -- D. Price 6-19 2-2 18; D. Needham 6-17 4-5 19; D. Wade 4-9 3-5 12; M. Barrow 5-9 0-0 10; A. Sidibe 3-6 4-4 10; J. Mikulic 3-8 0-0 7; M. Gilbert 1-4 0-0 2; S. Johnston 0-2 0-0 0; C. Nickerson 0-0 1-2 1; C. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0; K. Matthews 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-55 12-16 61.
SAINT PETER`S 6-14 (1-9) -- Y. Raymond 8-16 3-4 19; B. Ffrench 3-8 1-4 8; C. Burke 1-2 4-4 6; D. Conley 4-13 0-0 8; D. Washington 2-8 0-0 5; C. Patterson 0-0 0-0 0; M. Tucker 2-5 2-2 6; K. Ferguson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 21-53 10-14 54.
Three-point goals: FAIR 5-23 (D. Wade 1-5; D. Needham 3-9; M. Barrow 0-1; M. Gilbert 0-2; J. Mikulic 1-5; S. Johnston 0-1), SPC 2-8 (B. Ffrench 1-3; Y. Raymond 0-1; D. Washington 1-3; C. Burke 0-1); Rebounds: FAIR 39 (D. Wade 10), SPC 24 (D. Conley 10); Assists: FAIR 10 (D. Wade 6), SPC 10 (B. Ffrench 3); Total Fouls -- FAIR 18, SPC 17; Fouled Out: FAIR-None; SPC-Y. Raymond.
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