BRIDGEPORT, CT – Freshman guard, Elijah Gonzales (Portland, OR/Clackamas) played the best game of his collegiate career thus far for the Saint Peter's men's basketball team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) opener against Fairfield University on Thursday night at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, CT. Gonzales led the Peacocks in scoring with a career-high 16 points, in steals with a career-best four thefts, and in assists handing out three dimes, while also tying his career-best rebounding mark of three in the game. Gonzales went 6-10 from the field (60%), and was perfect at the free-throw line (3-3) and from behind the arc (1-1). Despite the stellar play from the young guard, the Peacocks dropped the MAAC opening contest, 70-61, to the Stags.
"We're not surprised with Elijah's performance tonight," said head coach John Dunne. "He's had many practices where he has dominated and he's had his moments in other games this year. He [Gonzales] is a confident kid who is a good player and he played well for us tonight with great energy, quick hands on defense, and he totally sparked us offensively and helped us get back into the game. I look for him to continue to do this for us."
The game began perfect for Saint Peter's (6-6, 0-1), getting back to back threes on the first two possessions of the game from the graduate duo of Nick Griffin (Rockville, MD/George Washington/Col. Zadok Magruder) and Nnamdi Enechionyia (Springfield, VA/Samford/St. James School), putting the Peacocks up 6-0 early. The lead quickly evaporated when Fairfield (6-6, 1-0) went on a 13-0 run by the first media timeout, taking a lead over the Peacocks of 13-6, by the 15:01 mark. Following the media break, the Peacocks got back into the game with the long ball, connecting on three more trifectas from Quinn Taylor (Amarillo, TX/Tascosa), Griffin, and Enechionyia, leaving the Peacocks down by only one, at 18-17. The first five made field goals by Saint Peter's on the night were all three-pointers. The first two-point field goal, which also gave the Peacocks their final lead of the night at 19-18, was hit by Samuel Idowu (Brooklyn, NY/Lafayette Educational Complex) on a made layup in the paint. The Stags would eventually regain the lead and go up by double-digits behind back to back threes by Ferron Flavors Jr. and a transition three from the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year, Tyler Nelson, that extended Fairfield's lead to 32-21. Gonzales scored the last two Peacock baskets of the half, both coming by way of a layup, to send the game into the half with Saint Peter's trailing Fairfield, 37-27. 12 first half turnovers by the Peacocks resulted in 17 points for the Stags, compared to the five points off of turnovers by the Peacocks which was the difference in the first 40 minutes.
Gonzales continued to be the Peacocks offensive spark, beginning the half with a completed three-point play after a foul, made layup, and made free-throw. He then knocked in a three-pointer followed by a layup, to cut the Peacock deficit to, 40-35, with 17:35 reading on the clock. Gonzales scored 12 straight points for Saint Peter's over a 5:40 spam that began at the end of the first half and continued into the early goings of the second half. Following a timeout, the Peacocks got to within four points, the closest margin of the second half, when Cameron Jones (Fairless Hills, PA/Pennsbury) hit a three ball that cut the score to 42-38. Fairfield went back up by double digits, outscoring Saint Peter's 10-2 in response, once it became a two-possession game, which made the score 52-40. Saint Peter's managed to cut the deficit to six points on three occasions by the three-minute mark, sitting behind, 60-54, but a late three-point basket by Nelson, that put Fairfield back up by nine points was the game clincher for the Stags.
"Our energy was a lot better in the second half, but I still didn't like the six turnovers in the half," added Dunne. "I thought we had a lot of open good looks in the second half that didn't fall. When you are making your comeback and you get wide open looks, chip shots, and open threes, you have to make them. But we made a run, then Nelson made a great contested three late in the game. They got us on the offensive glass a little bit too late in the game; that we have to fix and get tougher in the paint down the stretch. We just have to roll up our sleeves, put our hard hats on, and figure out how to get better."
Griffin followed Gonzales with 13 points and Idowu scored 12 points for Saint Peter's. The Peacocks shot a perfect 12-12 from the charity stripe in the game for the first time this season.
Fairfield was led by Nelson's game-high, 19 points. Omar El-Sheikn and Matija Milin both tallied 11 points for the Stags additionally, while three other Stags logged nine points each.
The Peacocks will continue MAAC action on New Year's Eve when the squad welcomes two-time defending MAAC regular season champions and hOURglass Rival, Monmouth University to Jersey City for a noon tip-off.