Saint Peter's, MAAC
(Photo by Catalina Fragoso - JSN)

Saint Peter's men's basketball eliminated by Fairfield in MAAC Tournament

It was time for Final Four Friday at the MAAC Men's Basketball Tournament in Atlantic City. Fairfield faced Saint Peter's while Iona took on Niagara at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, with the winners to face off for the MAAC Championship on Saturday afternoon.

No. 7 Fairfield 52, No. 3 Saint Peter's 47

After a slow start to start the game, Saint Peter's went on a 15-3 run to take a 17-7 lead over Fairfield at the 11:39 mark of the first half. The Peacocks used their stifling defense as the Stags started 3-of-12 from the field to begin. The pace of the game slowed considerably as both teams struggled shooting. Like Thursday's game, the Peacocks struggled with turnovers as they picked up eight in the first half.

Jesus Cruz's jumper cut Saint Peter's lead to 20-15 as Fairfield started to find the bottom of the net late in the first half. After Fairfield tied the game at 20, the Peacocks responded with an alley-oop from Matthew Lee to KC Ndefo. After a frenetic end to the first half, Saint Peter's held a 24-22 lead.

Coming out of the locker room, Fairfield immediately attacked Saint Peter's, taking the lead after two made three-pointers on three possessions. Five quick points from Jake Wojcik gave Fairfield a 42-36 lead at the midway point of the second half. Fairfield's defense became an issue for Saint Peter's as they went scoreless on seven straight offensive possessions in the middle part of the half.

Trailing 47-38 at the four-minute mark of regulation, Doug Edert hit a running shot in the paint to try to get Saint Peter's back into the game. The Peacock defense tightened, holding Fairfield without a field goal for the final 5:35 of the game to make the game closer down the stretch. Saint Peter's could not sink crucial baskets late as they shot 3-for-12 in the last five minutes as they fell to the Stags to end their season.

"Fairfield is a great team. I think we just ran out of gas tonight," Saint Peter's head coach Shaheen Holloway told the media after the game. "Those kids gave me everything they got, and I'm forever grateful."

Over the last two seasons in Jersey City, Holloway has led Saint Peter's to 24 conference wins and two semifinal appearances in the MAAC Tournament. The future's looking bright for the Peacocks, who are considered one of the top teams in the MAAC.

"When you're building something like we are at Saint Peter's, it's steps," said Holloway. "I think where we are right now is way ahead of where I thought we would be in the first three years, and that's a credit to those guys, especially to that sophomore class. We are building, and the goal is to keep building and don't stop and try to be at the top of the standings every year."

No. 9 Iona 70, No. 5 Niagara 64

After Niagara took a 6-0 lead early on, Iona went on an 11-0 run led by Asante Gist's five early points. Unlike their first game of the MAAC Tournament, Iona's ball movement improved the more they played, and Friday was no exception as they picked up four assists in the first portion of the first half. Niagara, similar to their quarterfinal matchup against Marist, had trouble making shots as they shot just 27 percent early on.

As the first half rolled on, Niagara began to settle for long-range shots without much success. Purple Eagles head coach Greg Paulus could be heard screaming "Push! Push!" from the sidelines as soon as Niagara picked up a defensive rebound. Pushing the tempo gave Niagara a few baskets in transition as they tried to cut away at the Iona lead. However, every time Niagara started gaining momentum, Iona would answer as they ended the first half on a 6-0 run en route to a 43-25 halftime lead.

The second half was a carbon copy of the first half as Iona continued to dominate Niagara as Nelly Junior Joseph and Dylan Van Eyck leading the way. The Purple Eagles made a run late in the second half as Niagara started putting pressure on Iona's ball handlers. An 18-4 run trimmed the Gaels' lead to 60-55 with 6:43 remaining in regulation. Raheem Solomon scored 10 points during that prolific run.

Niagara forced ten Iona turnovers and held the Gaels without a field goal for the final 9:30. In the end, poor shot selection (5-of-17 from three in the second half) did in the Purple Eagles as Iona survived and advanced.

"Great first half on both ends of the floor...and the worst second half of the season," said Iona head coach Rick Pitino. "We learned some valuable lessons, and I'm hoping it helps us in the finals."

Asante Gist led Iona with 19 points. Gaels' leading scorer Isaiah Ross finished with four points on 1-of-9 shooting. Raheem Solomon scored a game-high 21 points and eight rebounds for Niagara, who fell just short of the comeback.

Championship Saturday Set

On Saturday afternoon Fairfield and Iona will square off for the MAAC Men's Basketball Championship. The action starts at 4 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU.