After Saint Peter's lost to Stony Brook on Dec. 18th, the Peacocks record stood at 3-6. The pressure was building for Shaheen Holloway's squad, who was picked to finish second in the MAAC in the preseason. Saint Peter's took on a tough non-conference schedule and headed towards conference play in a downturn. But on the way to their road game to Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 22nd, something occurred that may have been a blessing in disguise.
The following two games for Saint Peter's against FDU and Connecticut College were canceled heading into the Christmas Break. Games against Iona and Manhattan were then rescheduled as the Peacocks embarked on a 27-day layoff before playing Monmouth at Run Baby Run Arena on Jan. 14th. The game, a 67-62 Saint Peter's win, was a complete effort for a team that looked refreshed and ready to compete for a MAAC crown.
Since that win, which gave Monmouth their first conference loss of the season, Saint Peter's have reeled off four straight wins. Their latest victory was on Jan. 21st, a road win over Niagara, 74-68. The win moved Saint Peter's MAAC record to 5-1, their best start in conference since the 2015-2016 season.
"The guys showed me something tonight," said Holloway after his team played its fourth game in seven days which included two games on the road. "Obviously, with the travel situation we had, it would've been easy to use excuses. But I didn't think our guys did that. I thought they played hard and kept fighting throughout. I was proud of them. Just a big-time gutty win overall."
Saint Peter's has used defense to win games during the four-game winning streak. They are holding their opponents to 60 points per game and just 27 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The Peacocks are forcing their 17 turnovers during their winning streak and making their free throws at a 75 percent clip, up from their 67 percent average last season.
The engine that makes this team run is MAAC Preseason Player of the Year KC Ndefo. The senior forward tied his career-high with 22 points and set a career-high with 13 rebounds in the win over Niagara. The performance came after a 12-rebound effort against Canisius.
"I thought KC played like the Player of the Year tonight," said Holloway. "He was big for us, especially on boards. These last two games, he had 12 rebounds last game and then 13 tonight, so he's starting to really get into the flow of the game and play strong for us."
The Peacocks have also had contributions from every aspect of the team, mainly Darryl Banks III and Fousseyni Drame. Banks III is leading the team in scoring (11.2 PPG) and shooting 92 percent from the free-throw line. Drame, who starts and comes off the bench, leads the team in rebounding (7.2 RPG) and is shooting 51 percent from the field this season.
Another overlooked aspect of the team is how nine players are averaging double-digit minutes, keeping players fresh for close games down the stretch. It also shows that Holloway and his coaching staff trust the team at every point of the game.
Every game in the MAAC is challenging, but the upcoming schedule for Saint Peter's are winnable games against Canisius, Marist, and Manhattan before their showdown with Rick Pitino's Iona Gaels, who leads the MAAC, on Jan. 30th. The Peacocks will then have a chance to showcase the program nationally when they face Quinnipiac at home on ESPNU on Feb. 4th.
Saint Peter's is living up to that preseason designation, but they know that the work is not done. The following 7-10 days will say a lot about the Peacocks and whether they can continue this torrid pace, especially against Iona. If the last week has been any indication, they are ready for the challenge.