BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
After watching the North Carolina Tarheels dispatch the Cinderella Saint Peter’s Peacocks in the Elite Eight to a score of 69-49 Sunday evening at Wells Fargo Center, I can only imagine if we are going to see a run like this again by a local college basketball team.
I am not talking about Saint Peter’s per se. I am talking about the big three college basketball programs in Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John’s. Prior to Saint Peter’s run, we haven’t had a college basketball team run like that since 2000 when Seton Hall lost in the Sweet 16 to Oklahoma State.
22 years turned out to be a long wait, and it’s unacceptable for a program in the tri-state area to not be a factor in college basketball. This should not happen in an area that actually develops good players in high schools. This should not happen in the nation’s top media market.
There was nothing like anticipation on gameday the other day. Everyone was going to enjoy what Saint.Peter’s did whether it won or not. The dream of this team in the Final Four was not far-fetched anymore. Everyone wanted hope to be alive for one more weekend. Regardless, it was refreshing to watch a game where we can hope. That’s what being a sports fan in this town is all about: An event that would get people together. Being at Bello’s on Sunday out in Newark, there was really nothing like being in a crowded bar watching what Jersey City’s Jesuit school could do.
Just seeing what the Peacocks did makes us want more. We shouldn’t have to wait for another 22 years to see a run like this from a college basketball program in town. This weekend made us feel like we were in the big leagues in college basketball. To be in the Elite Eight is an honor even if teams such as Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Villanova and other successful programs look at this as ho-hum. It doesn’t happen here.
The fact a MAAC school in our backyard made it to the Elite Eight made all of this special since it was unexpected. It likely may never happen again for Saint Peter’s. Doug Edert, Daryl Banks III, KC Nedfo, Hassan Drame and Fousseyni Drame will be folk heroes in Jersey City forever. Those guys’ jerseys should be retired for what they accomplished for the Peacocks.
These two weeks should never be forgotten. It won’t here. I can say that with conviction because I know people that remember Princeton upsetting a talented defending champion UCLA in 1996 NCAA Tournament.
We will remember Edert’s poise at the free-throw line. We will remember his mustache. We won’t forget about Banks and Nedfo getting important buckets. We won’t forget the Drame brothers for doing the glue work. We won’t forget the excellent coaching job that Shaheen Holloway did in putting his players in a position to succeed. We won’t forget how the Peacocks made it look so easy in a tight game against Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue.
For these guys to bring the region together and make us proud, I will remember this the most.
For the players and coaches, it was about the journey that got them in this position going back to the MAAC Tournament.
It was fun reading about them in the papers and knowing about them on social media these last few weeks.
When CBS plays that One Shining Moment on Monday night, we will look back in pride seeing Saint Peter’s for its run. To me, the Peacocks are the real champions for the joy they gave us. We all love an underdog, and the Peacocks define that name by how gritty and resilient they were.
There will be a parade for the Peacocks on Friday in Jersey City. It would be a good time for everyone in the tri-state area to go out there and thank them for what they accomplished here. These guys deserve so much love. This should have a making of a festival on this day. It’s the type of experience everyone deserves.
If nothing else. Saint Peter’s reminds us that college basketball can be big here if our teams are winning. This should put pressure on Seton Hall, Rutgers and St. John’s to go as far as it can. Making the tournament is just not enough here. It’s about the runs and the journey that brings the runs. Getting to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight is a goal these programs should strive for, not just settling on a tournament appearance and winning a tournament game.
There’s nothing like getting everyone together to root for a team to win. It shouldn’t take 22 years for another run like this. Here’s hoping Steve Pikiell and Holloway give us more runs like what Saint Peter’s did. It can happen here. Pikiell has shown he can coach and develop players at Rutgers, and you have to think Holloway can do the same magic when he is Seton Hall’s head coach.
While we wait, let’s thank the Peacocks for giving a March to remember.
The players and coaches should be hailed now and for life.