Believe it or not, Peacocks perched atop the MAAC standings

The college basketball season is more than half over. It has brought about some major surprises. There have been multiple changes galore in the Associated Press Top 25 every week. There are teams making noise in their respective conferences.
Take for instance, the Peacocks of St. Peter’s University. They might be the best kept secret in New Jersey college basketball.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference features perennial favorite Iona and upstart Monmouth, which has knocked off titans such as UCLA, USC and Notre Dame on the road this season. Both teams are situated among the top teams in the MAAC.
But look who else is among the best teams in the MAAC. That’s right, St. Peter’s, which had become an afterthought in the league ever since winning the league title and heading to the NCAA Tournament in 2011.
After beating Marist, 76-67, Sunday afternoon at the Yanitelli Center, the Peacocks own a 6-1 record, just a half-game behind front-running Monmouth and a game ahead of Iona.
This is a program that has not enjoyed a winning season since the trip to March Madness and showdown with Purdue in 2011. They have a combined record over four years of 44-82. The Peacocks have an affable, likeable head coach in John Dunne, but having a good coach isn’t a lot to hang a hat on.
It’s probably the main reason why Yanitelli Center was far from filled Sunday afternoon. The official attendance was a paltry 321. There were far more empty wooden bleachers than there was Peacock faithful.
Sure, the St. Peter’s students are still on semester break, so that would knock down the attendance totals a few clicks. But it was still a little eerie seeing the place so empty for a Peacock game.
However, after winning this game, the Peacocks deserve a little love and respect from basketball followers. They play a crisp, upbeat brand of basketball. Their defensive intensity and effort is second to none. Plain and simple, they are fun to watch.
Dunne, who remarkably is in his 10th year already coaching the Peacocks, doesn’t want to play up the fact that his team is right in the mix for first place with super foe Iona and media darling Monmouth, with their celebrating bench grabbing national attention and newspaper headlines for their antics during games.
“We’re coming along as a team,” Dunne said. “We’re coming together. We’re getting contributions from everyone. It’s about team defense, not one individual. The defense is pretty locked in. We’re getting more confidence as the season goes on.”
Dunne said that he’s not “shocked” by his team’s early season success.
“I’m not shocked at all,” Dunne said. “We have a team with great character. We never quit on the process. We never quit mentally. It may sound like coach-speak, but we’re staying focused on the process. We’re just getting ready for the next day, then the next. We have a young, inexperienced team that keeps getting better, keeps growing and learning. We have a lot of room for improvement, but we’re not overachieving at all. We’re just fortunate to be 5-1 at this point.”
Before the Peacocks entered MAAC regular season play, Dunne made a conscious decision that might have raised some eyebrows. He took junior point guard Trevis Wyche, the St. Peter’s Prep product, out of the starting lineup. Wyche had been a starter since he enrolled at Harvard on the Boulevard.
But midway through this campaign, Dunne removed Wyche from the starting lineup – without a whimper from Wyche.
“It really didn’t matter to me,” said Wyche, a former Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week during his days at Grand and Warren. “Anyway I can help the team, I was all for it.”
Wyche was repeatedly asked if the bench role bothered him and he stuck to his guns. He was fine with it.
“It just helps our rotation of guards,” Dunne said. “He still will get his minutes, but he gets three or four minutes off to start the game. Trevis always has the team-first approach. He didn’t waver once and he wasn’t just saying that to appease me. He truly believed that it was for the betterment of the team.”
Since Wyche has come off the bench, his play has been downright tremendous. Sunday, Wyche a team-high 20 points and dished off for nine assists, the highest assist total for a Peacock guard at Yanitelli Center since the immortal Keydren “Kee-Kee” Clark, the two-time NCAA scoring champion and the all-time leading scorer at Harvard on the Boulevard by more than 1,000 points.
“His play over the last three weeks has been outstanding,” Dunne said. “He’s taken it and ran with it.”
Wyche had 20 points, all in the second half, to lead the Peacocks past Fairfield, 77-71, in Connecticut Tuesday night.
After enduring some tough times in recent years, there’s a smile on Wyche’s face these days.
“Winning is always fun,” Wyche said. “It’s fun to play with this team. I think we’re all playing with a lot of confidence. I’m confident with the ball in my hands that I can do anything to help the team. I’ve been shooting better. I’m getting to the basket. It just makes playing the game that much easier.”
It also helps when a basketball team has an inside presence and the Peacocks have one in 6-foot-8 junior center Quadir Welton. The Philadelphia product had 14 points and eight rebounds in the win over Marist, a little better than his 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds average. Welton has tremendous hands – not to mention huge – and just having someone down low who can simply catch the ball, then make plays, is a major key.
“I like the role I have,” Welton said. “It’s a lot different than the first two years here. I’m scoring, rebounding, passing. I felt like I could help this team win if Coach Dunne gave me the chance.”
Welton is getting that opportunity to play – and the Peacocks are winning.
“When we got him, we realized just how good his hands are,” Dunne said. “He’s also a good passer from the post, a willing passer. Q has continued to get better and grow into his role. He’s growing into the experience.”
The Peacocks’ leading scorer is a freshman guard, a 6-foot-4 bundle of energy named Antwon Portley, who is averaging 15 points per game – and that’s what he tallied Sunday. There are five freshmen on the Peacock roster, which gives Dunne a ton of hope for the future. There’s only one senior, 6-foot-8 Swedish import Elias Desport, who is another inside presence.
A young team with a bright future – seems like a recipe for success for the Peacocks, who haven’t enjoyed much success over the last four years.
“Losing stinks,” Dunne said. “Winning is always fun. We still have a long way to go, but I like our chances to improve even more.”
The Peacocks have a road game against powerhouse Iona this week, before returning home Jan. 24 for a game against old MAAC foe Manhattan at 3 p.m. at Yanitelli Center. It would be nice to see the old St. Peter’s spirit returning to Yanitelli in terms of fans. This is an exciting team that deserves the attention. The fans should return. They would not be disappointed.

Jim Hague can be reached at can also read Jim’s blog at

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