Saturday, March 5, 2011

Men: Experience Helps Peacocks Advance

When Saint Peter's senior guard standout Wes Jenkins injured his knee during preseason he worked hard to get it back in shape. When he injured it again several weeks into the season, he did the same thing.

Either time Jenkins could have decided not to play his senior season on a knee that would be less than 100 percent if he came back. He could have opted, either time, to take a medical redshirt and come back for a full season in 2011-12.

"I had a bond with our seniors," said Jenkins. "I wanted to play with these guys this season."

Saint Peter's gets to keep playing this season, courtesy of a 70-60 victory over Loyola in a quarterfinal-round game of the men's MAAC tournament.

The Peacocks advance Sunday's 2 p.m. semifinal-round contest, probably against hometown favorite Fairfield, which held an early lead over Marist.

Indeed the three-player senior class that has been in place for each of the past four seasons, forward Ryan Bacon and guards Nick Leon and Jenkins have a history together.

The grew up together. It wasn't always an easy process.

But, they're seniors now and Jenkins wanted to enjoy the benefits of the investments he and his classmates have made over their first three seasons.

Such as figuring out how to win together. In a league where veterans usually have success all three started as freshmen.

Predictably the Peacocks struggled that season, at one point losing 18 consecutive.

Jenkins was one of the few lone bright spots, even scoring 27 points in an early season game against Rutgers.

'After that he had a lot of people telling him he should transfer (to a bigger program)," said Peacocks' fifth-year coach John Dunne. "But he stayed to help build this."

This is a team that won 11 regular-season MAAC games for the second year in a row, just the third time the program has accomplished that in its 30-year MAAC history.

The team's 18th overall victory that came Saturday (St. Peter's is now 18-13 overall) marked the most since the 1994-95 season when it won 19 games.

And Saturday marked the first time in John Dunne's five season, and in his seniors' four seasons together, that they have won a conference tournament game.

"We lost those 18 straight that first year," said Jenkins. "We were better our second and third years, but still didn't win a tournament game. This win takes a load off our shoulders. Now we can go on tomorrow."

The Peacocks' leading scorer Saturday was a fourth senior, forward Jeron Belin, who joined the program last season after transferring in from a junior college. The 6-foot-6 Belin had 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor. Bacon added 15 points and a team-high 7 rebounds.

Loyola, on the other hand, only has one senior, point guard Brian Rudolph.

"In this league experience is important," said Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos. "We had one senior on the floor, and they (St. Peter's) had four. We finished 15-15 this year. It was a good year, but we've got to take the next step. You do that by getting experience.

'We got the game down to three (late in the second half) and didn't make a shot."

Loyola's freshman guard Justin Drumnond led his team with 18 points.

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