BRIDGEPORT, CONN. -- Saint Peter’s is going dancing. The MAAC Conference will be sending the Peacocks to the NCAA Tournament after they defeated Iona, 62-57, Monday night in the championship game at Webster Bank Arena at HarborYard.
WHAT IT MEANS: For the first time since 1995, Saint Peter’s (20-13) will be heading to the NCAA Tournament. The fourth-seeded Peacocks knocked out No. 1 Fairfield in the semifinals and then took down No. 2 Iona. Iona (22-11) had beaten the Peacocks by a combined 32 points in their two meetings this season. Saint Peter’s is now a three-time MAAC tournament champion.
FIVE YEARS LATER: This was a rematch of the 2006 finals game, an 80-61 win by Iona, which was also the last finals appearance by either team before Monday’s game. In tournament history, the teams have now split their four championship matchups. Both teams are founding members of the conference.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: This game was won on the defensive end. Saint Peter’s did a fantastic job defensively closing out on shooters and pressuring the ball. The Gaels had scored at least 59 points in each of its games this season before Monday. In the two earlier matchups against the Peacocks, Iona had scored 70 and 73 points. Iona’s 20 first-half points were the lowest it scored in any half against Saint Peter’s this year.
THE STRETCH: The critical junction in this game was an 8-0 run after Iona cut the score to 37-33. A quick lay-up by Yvon Raymond started the run and Nick Leon and Wesley Jenkins each followed with back-to-back 3’s to give the Peacocks their first double-digit lead with 7:39 remaining.
WHERE’S MARIANO?: The Peacocks need to work on closing games. Each time it seemed they had put the game away, Iona forced a turnover and would score an easy basket. Iona had a good chance to cut the lead to one after a steal with 40 seconds left down 56-52, but Trinity Fields missed a 3-pointer and Leon grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws to extend the lead to 58-52 and all but seal the game.
GOING DOWNTOWN: While Saint Peter’s did a great job on defense, the difference in 3-point shooting was also critical. Iona, the second-best long-range shooting team in the conference, was just 3-of-18 Saint Peter’s meanwhile hit 7-of-15 attempts, including three each by Leon and Jeron Belin. Belin led the Peacocks with 17.
OPTIMUS IS PRIME, HIS TEAMMATES NOT SO MUCH: Iona’s Mike Glover, nicknamed Optimus Prime, was quite efficient in this game as he led Iona with 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting. His teammates? Well, they didn’t fare so well, shooting just 10-of-47. While Glover scored 23 points, Saint Peter’s did a good job keeping him from taking over any real stretch of the game.
UP NEXT: The NCAA tournament is the next step for Saint Peter’s, who will be looking at low seed. Meanwhile, Iona can only hope to be selected to the NIT as Fairfield will receive the league’s automatic bid.