Thursday, December 31, 2009

Peacocks Show Progess in Loss To Siena

Saint Peter's fell to a 6-7 overall record and a 1-2 mark in conference play after a 64-53 loss to Siena at Albany's Times Union Center in a late-afternoon New Year's Eve game, but from the looks of things the Peacocks won't be sub-.500 for long.

And, its play here at the TUC, where the Saints have won 27 straight games (tied for the nation's third-longest home-court streak) clearly indicated Saint Peter's should be a dangerous team when the conference's post-season tournament is held here in March.

Here are some points in the Peacocks' favor:

- They were within a point with 11:51 remaining, still within two with 9:28 left and had a chance to get to within three with five minutes left when their junior forward John Belin missed an under-pressure fast-break move that got to the rim. After Belin's miss, the Saints scored seven of the next eight points to finally get some breathing room for the final two minutes.

- Saint Peter's work was done a man short, and a good one. The visitor's standout guard Wesley Jenkins, their most-gifted offensive player and leading scorer (14.0 points per game), was held out while recovering from a mild concussion suffered in his team's victory over Stony Brook on Monday.

- Saint Peter's work, too, was enough to convince Siena coach Fran McCaffery to play the entire second half without giving his starters a break.

"I just preferred to go with my experience," said McCaffery about his lack of second-half substitutions. "I felt like it was that type of game that we needed to go with our experience."

Siena was held to its third-lowest point total in a game this season. Only in a 59-53 victory over Northeastern and a 74-61 loss at Georgia Tech did the Saints score fewer points.

Credit some of that to the visitors' inclination to rush back on defense rather than try to track down offensive rebounds, plus a defensive tenacity in the half court.

"I was really pleased with our effort, particularly coming without one of our best players," said Saint Peter's coach John Dunne. "In the past we hadn't competed well enough up here.

"And, we could have come in here with our heads down, especially without Wesley. But, we competed."

Credit much of that to a team considerably more experienced than when it was one of the younger Division I programs in terms of overall age last season.

Dunne, though, said his team is still going through some growing pains, that the consistency of the type effort on display against Siena has been lacking in some games.

His team has been impressive in a two-point loss against Seton Hall and with a conference victory over Iona. And, then, St. Peter's has also been the only team to lose a game against Wagner thus far this season.

"I've told our guys that we can't just keep talking the talk," added Dunne. "Like we did in this game, we have to come out and not only compete but compete with courage."

But, teams evolve as seasons progress. If Saint Peter's can compete every night like it did against Siena ... that, and Jenkins' impending return should ensure Dunne's team will be considerably better in 2010 than its 6-7 record to date indicates.

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