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Second look: For Dunne and St. Peter’s a title well earned and deserved

April 13, 2017 Columns No Comments

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – If you get to meet and talk a few minutes with him you know he’s a genuinely nice person. If you watch his teams play you know he is a very good coach. Those fortunate to know and/or watch him on the sidelines know John Dunne is a very good coach. A week ago a lot of other people found out the same.

Dunne’s St. Peter’s team was in the finals of the CollegeInsider.com post season tournament. Their assignment was an away game on the campus of Texas A & M Corpus Christi. Two nights earlier, St. Peter’s easily handled Furman at home to earn the right to play for the championship. Dunne never complained about taking to the road. The only remark he made was “it will probably be an early flight leaving for Texas.” That is style. Not one to complain, just compete.

It is the nature of life, basketball and academic, at the small Jesuit School on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City. You can literally walk from one end of campus to the other in minutes. It is nothing fancy, just functional. Kenpom.com lists the 3200-seat Yanitelli Center, the place St. Peter’s calls home, as 293rd-“largest” in Division I size. Recruits may comment on the school being a relatively small group of buildings. Dunne counters with “It is not how many buildings, but the people inside that make the place special.”

St. Peter’s, guided by one of the good guys in college coaching, won the 2017 CIT (Ray Floriani photo)

He has been at St. Peter’s since the 2006-07 season, and signed on to a rebuilding job. By 2011 the Peacocks upset favored Fairfield on their home floor en route to a MAAC championship. The overall won-lost record is below .500 and does not do justice to the quality of work turned in by Dunne. They call the MAAC, as noted, their home conference. It is a competitive league, with good coaches and programs for the most part flying under the radar. Entering the ‘17 season the talk was centered around regular season defending champion Monmouth and post season titlist Iona. Dunne, though, liked his team’s chances. They split with Monmouth and lost two to Iona, the latter in OT on the victor’s home floor. Hopes were high entering the MAAC Tournament in Albany. Following a quarterfinal win over Canisius, the same Iona nemesis knocked them out of the tournament.

St. Peter’s, disappointed in the loss, was not ready to call it a season. They stood 19-13 and the senior-laden group accepted a CIT bid. They did so not just to appear in as tournament, but go as far as possible. Road victories over Albany and Texas State (the latter a comeback following an awful start) set up the semifinal with Furman at Yanitelli Center. As noted, St. Peter’s was an easy winner in front of a packed house including a number of basketball alumni from as far back as the Sixties.

At Texas A & M Corpus Christi, the Peacocks fell behind as much as 12 points. Maintaining poise, they slowly, possession by possession, chipped away at the deficit. Late game saw them take a lead that would be short-lived. With seconds left Cole Martinez, a deadly outside shooter, was fouled attempting a three. He made all three free throws to tie the game. With 2.9 seconds left St. Peter’s threw a pass to senior Quadir Welton (the tournament MOP) just inside half court. Welton caught it and called time. Dunne set up a sidelines out of bounds play that freed another senior, Trevis Wyche. The 6-1 guard was fouled going to the basket. He made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second. The Islanders rebounded and a desperation heave was far off the mark. St. Peter’s was the champion.

As St. Peter’s celebrated their first post season title, thoughts went back to the June day in 2006 when Dunne was introduced as the St. Peter’s coach. Several of his Seton Hall players from his previous stop as an assistant at the Big East school were in attendance. Grant Billmeier, now an assistant on Kevin Willard’s staff at the Hall, spoke how Dunne was a brilliant tactician who could break down opposing game film and prepare a detailed scouting report like no other. A lot of what Billmeier spoke about resurfaced not just during the CIT final, but the entire 23-13 season St. Peter’s had just put an exclamation on. Dunne maintained poise on the sidelines during the game, studying the ebb and flow of the contest in a sharp, analytic fashion. He made the right moves and even when Martinez was fouled late, refused to panic. Rather, he was working on his next move.

Those not familiar with Dunne and his club, tuning in and viewing the proceedings were no doubt impressed. Those following St. Peter’s for any stretch of time during his watch could only admire yet another solid effort turned in by a John Dunne coached team.

Great guy. Great coach. One with a well-earned, richly deserved post season title in the CIT.

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