MAAC Tournament, St. Peter's, Saint Peter's
(Courtesy of MAAC)

Saint Peter’s cruises past Iona in MAAC Tournament Quarterfinals

Heading into Thursday's MAAC Tournament Quarterfinal match-up against Iona at the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, the Saint Peter's Peacocks women's basketball team was on a roll. They finished the regular season with an impressive 58-51 win over Marist, the number one team in the conference which boosted the Peacocks up to the No. 3 seed, the highest seeding since the 2001-02 season. The Peacocks wound up with an 11-14 record, 10-9 in the conference, their best since 2008-09.

Redshirt-senior Taiah Thornton was selected for the All-MAAC First-Team. Simultaneously, fellow redshirt-senior Kendrea Williams was named to the All-MAAC Third-Team, and freshman Ajia James was a unanimous selection to the MAAC All-Rookie Team.

The Peacock's were face up against the sixth-seed Iona (6-9, 5-6 MAAC) in the MAAC Tournament quarterfinals. Saint Peter's held a dominant advantage in the all-time series, 61-31, including sweeping the regular-season series against the Gaels this year.

Early on, those statistics did not matter at all. With St. Peter's up 10-6 at the end of the first quarter, Iona erupted for a 9-0 run in the second quarter. The Peacocks offense had gone ice cold,  going scoreless until the four-minute mark when Thornton canned a trifecta. Iona outscoring Saint Peter's to take a 24-19 lead at halftime. James provided the bulk of the offense for the Peacocks with eight points.

Both teams struggled from the field in the first half. Iona shot just 29 percent but that still topped the 17 percent shooting from Saint Peter's. The Peacocks controlled the rebounding edge 28-20 while the Gales held a 16-12 margin with points in the paint.

Saint Peter's head coach Marc Mitchell, on the first half, "We played decently in the first half; we had a couple of miscues and mental mistakes. We got to halftime, just talked about staying locked in and paying attention to details."

The Peacocks came out of the locker room a motivated team in the third quarter, attacking the basket and backboards relentlessly, while exploding offensively with a 10-0 run in the first four minutes of the second half. The Peacocks smothering defense forced Iona into 11 turnovers. After a bucket from Gales guard Juana Camilion cut the gap to 31-28, the Peacocks offense kicked into another gear with yet another 10-0 run.

"I think scoring is important, we go on runs, and other team goes on runs, but the game of basketball is about runs," Mitchell explained. "We're good against any defense, and it doesn't really matter what you throw at us."

Entering the fourth quarter up 43-29, Saint Peter's continued to pour it on offensively, expanding the margin to 54-35 with four minutes remaining. The Peacocks were locked in at the charity stripe, burying 16 of 19 free throws. However, Iona fought back with a late 9-0 spurt that trimmed the deficit to 56-48. Saint Peter's maintained their composure and the Peacocks drained five out of six free throws in the last 35 seconds of play to cement the 61-50 victory and their first trip to the MAAC Tournament Semifinals since 2008.

Ajia James totaled a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, Binta Salawu dropping in 14 points, Thornton adding 11, and Sky Castro pulled down a team-high 17 rebounds. Saint Peter's out-rebounded Iona 50-39.

Juana Camilion paced Iona with 14 points while Ketsia Athias contributed 10.

Mitchell on the win, "I'm really proud of my young ladies, did a great job of making a halftime adjustment after we down five at the half and they played their butts off today and. This year was very tough for everyone, not having a home gym, and I think this says a lot about the resiliency of these young ladies that we have in our program and on this roster."

"The only motivation is a championship. We talked about the championship back in July or August, so I knew we were going to take some bumps and bruises this particularly early, and I just wanted us to be playing at our best coming down the stretch, and I think our young ladies are doing that."

Next up for the Peacocks is a semifinal match-up against seventh seed Rider (8-17, 5-13 MAAC) on Friday, March 12, with tip-off set for 1:30 p.m.