St. Peter's wins MAAC 62-57 over Iona

Long after the nets had been cut down, St. Peter's players sat courtside, looking around the arena where the team had just secured the school's first NCAA berth in 16 years.

They almost couldn't believe it.

Jeron Belin scored 17 points and the Peacocks (20-13) beat second-seeded Iona 62-57 to win the MAAC championship Monday.

Nick Leon added 15 points for the fourth-seeded Peacocks (20-13), who upset top-seed Fairfield 62-48 Sunday.

"We beat No. 1 and No. 2," Belin said after the game. "We're No. 1 now," Leon responded.

Michael Glover had 23 points for Iona, which came in averaging almost 80 points per game. Scott Machado added 15 and Rashon Dwight added 10.

The Gaels trailed by as many as 12 in the second half before mounting a furious comeback that fell short.

Iona's 57 points were a season low, two below the 59 they had in a two-point loss to Rider in January.

St. Peter's coach John Dunne said his team likes to run, but after being blown out twice by Iona during the regular season, realized they had to slow things down to have a chance Monday.

"As players, they have to believe in that," Dunne said. "If they were a different group, they might say, 'Hey, no, we can run with them.' You know, it's a pride thing. But these guys knew exactly what we needed to do to win."

The Peacocks controlled the tempo throughout. Iona came in shooting almost 48 percent from the field, but made just 19 of 59 shots on Monday.

Iona, second in the conference in 3-point shooting, was 3 for 18 from behind the arc, while the Peacocks hit seven 3-pointers.

"They were playing solid defense, and talking out there, helping each other out," said Machado, who hit just four of his 17 shots. "They was very scrappy."

This was St. Peter's seventh appearance in the MAAC championship game, but its first since 2006. The school last won the tournament and earned an NCAA bid in 1995.

The team was 6-24 when in 2007-08, when its seniors were freshmen.

"We just kept faith," Leon said. "We just put it together as a family, as a team, and we just did it."

St. Peter's led by six at intermission and went up by nine early in the second half.

Machado found Glover on an ally-oop to cut the lead to 37-33, but the Peacocks had a quick response.

A blocked shot from Ryan Bacon and a 3-pointer from Leon pushed the lead back to nine at 42-33, and a Jenkins' 3-pointer gave them their biggest lead of the game at 45-33.

St. Peter's led 49-38 with just over 4 minutes left and began to spread the floor on offense.

That's when Iona made its final push.

Glover scored eight points down the stretch, and Iona cut the lead to 56-52 on his layup with 45 seconds left.

A steal from Iona gave them a chance to cut it to one, but a 3-point attempt from Trinity Fields hit the rim. St. Peter's made six foul shots down the stretch to seal the win.

"We had a layup or two after that that just didn't go down," Iona coach Tim Cluess said. "It was like a lid on the basket for us and for them, they made all the big shots that they needed to make."

As the final buzzer sounded, St. Peter's players ran to center court and piled on each other in celebration.

Iona hit just three of its first 10 shots, and were outrebounded in the first half 17-13.

Iona also had just two field goals in the final 7 minutes of the half and trailed 26-20 at intermission.

Iona guard Kyle Smyth appeared to re-injure his left shoulder diving for a loose ball with about 3 minutes left in the first half, and was taken to the locker room. He didn't return. Smyth, who averages almost 11 points a game, also left the semifinal win over Rider with a shoulder injury.

Iona had won nine in a row and came in off two blowout wins in the tournament, 94-64 over Siena and 83-59 over Rider in the semifinals.

This was the eighth time to two teams have met in the MAAC tournament. Iona came in 5-2 in those games.

Iona won both regular-season meetings between the two teams, 70-52 at home in January and 73-59 at St. Peter's on Feb. 25.

But St. Peter's said they were never intimidated.

"We're not scared of nobody," Leon said.

Added Belin: "We're the new Butler."