NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – St. Peter’s has climbed from five victories in the 2006-07 season and just six the following year to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. Now the Peacocks have a chance to upset the mighty Purdue Boilermakers on Friday.
When coach John Dunne produced only five victories in his first season, there were calls for some of the players to transfer. No way the Peacocks were going to win.
One of those who got such advise was Wesley Jenkins, who overcame a serious knee injury this season to lead the team in scoring at 12.8 points. Jenkins stayed and so did teammates, and now the Peacocks have a strong nucleus of seniors that hope to pull off the upset.
“A lot of guys we recruit might have gotten snubbed from higher levels or even other MAAC teams,” Dunne said. “So they kind of play with a chip on their shoulders and we’ve used that as motivation through the years to just try to get better every day, stick together and eventually the wins will start coming.”
And this year they have, 20 of them. Now they get to face one of the nation’s most talented big men in Johnson, who averaged 20.5 points.
“Johnson’s tremendous,” Dunne said. “I mean you can throw three guys at him and he can take his little fadeway and knock it down.”
St. Peter’s earned its way in by winning the MAAC tournament, and will face a Purdue team that once again will be short-handed.
JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have been part of a school-record 106 wins during their careers at Purdue. They’re used to carrying the Boilermakers, even if that means compensating for the loss of a teammate.
After star Robbie Hummel re-injured his knee in the preseason, Johnson and Moore combined to average 38.7 points, 53 percent of Purdue’s offense this season.
It’s that one-two attack that the third-seeded Boilermakers will count on Friday in their NCAA tournament opener against St Peter’s. They’ve made the round of 16 the previous two years.
“You know this is our last time playing in the NCAA tournament,” said Johnson, the 6-foot-10 Big Ten Player of the Year who will be in an NBA uniform this time next year. “We’re going to be playing with a lot of emotion and things like that.”
Purdue (25-7) reached 25 wins for the fourth straight season under coach Matt Painter, but dropped its final two games – losing at Iowa in the regular-season finale and then surprisingly being routed out of the conference tournament by Michigan State.
Backup guard Kelsey Barlow, who is a strong perimeter defender while averaging five points per game, was suspended this week by Painter for conduct detrimental to the team.
“It is disappointing,” Painter said Thursday. “You’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to make mistakes over the course of time. You just don’t want to see that consistent behavior. When you see that, I think you’ve got to make the best decision for your team.”
The Boilermakers did receive some good news Thursday. Another backup guard, Ryne Smith, has been cleared to play after inadvertently being hit in the head in practice by Moore and missing two days of drills.
Also cleared to play but still wearing a walking boot was guard John Hart, who hurt his foot during practice earlier in the week.
Without Barlow, the Boilermakers will have use their bench even more with freshman Terone Johnson more than likely picking up more playing time.
“It will be fine. This team has definitely dealt with a lot of adversity,” Johnson said. “So we’ll definitely overcome it. It’s unfortunate situation, but we’re all going to be fine.”
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