BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Outside of Saint Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway, Saint Peter’s players and myself, no one expected the Peacocks to play this coming weekend in Philadelphia.
After all, it’s rare a MAAC team wins an NCAA Tournament game. Tim Cluess had some good Iona teams that made it competitive in a tournament game just to fall short on the first try. Why would Saint Peter’s be different? Plus, it’s rare a 15 seed go far.
But Saint Peter’s defied conventional wisdom. Not only did the No. 15 seed Peacocks beat No. 2 seed Kentucky on Thursday night to play one more game in Indianapolis for the weekend, but they beat No. 7 seed Murray State in a 70-60 score Saturday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse that has them going to Philadelphia for the Sweet 16 on Friday night. They will play the winner of Texas/Purdue game on Sunday. They became just the third No. 15 seed along with Oral Roberts (2021) and Florida Gulf Coast (2013) to advance to the Sweet 16.
Here’s why the Peacocks believed: They had players that knew how to make shots at crunch time in Doug Edert, KC Ndefo and Daryl Banks III. They boast a head coach that knew what he was doing in calling plays and putting players in a position to succeed.
Here’s why I believed: Kentucky was not the team we are used to seeing. That team was ripe for the taking for the Peacocks. As good as the Murray State Racers are, the Peacocks could beat them, too by playing a half-court game.
Everything came to fruition this weekend in Indianapolis. The Peacocks received winning plays on offense and defense. They were clutch on the free throw line at crunch time. That’s why they are still dancing.
In the Peacocks’ 85-79 victory over Kentucky on Thursday, they scored 14 points in overtime to survive Kentucky’s finish in regulation that put the game to overtime. Edert hit a huge 3 to tie the game at 75, and Hassan Drame made a layup to give them a 79-76 lead with 1:04 to go. Kentucky fouled Saint Peter’s to extend the game, but in the end, the Peacocks hit their free throws to squash Kentucky’s comeback attempt.
In the Peacocks’ victory over Murray State, they got stops and they were able to make shots at critical junctions in the game.
The Peacocks just were never fazed whenever Kentucky and Murray State made their runs. They kept playing by making shots and playing defense. They did not panic. That’s a reflection of a well-coached team right there. That’s where you credit Holloway for molding the team in his image. He knew how to do well in winning time when he played at Saint Patrick’s in Elizabeth and at Seton Hall. He knows winning, and he impaired that by getting recruits that would reflect him and his style of play.
This weekend served as a reinforcement of what they can do. Their wins against Kentucky and Murray State serve that they are good enough to win the whole thing. It’s not a crazy thought anymore.
Saint Peter’s can certainly beat Texas or Purdue. Then anything goes in Elite Eight in Philadelphia. That’s the beauty of this run. It gets interesting now. Everyone knows what the Peacocks can do. No one is going to take them lightly, and this won’t scare them off because they know they can still win.
No one knows what the Peacocks can do in Philadelphia. We are going to find out. This is why this weekend will be a special time of their lives. It’s an opportunity that rarely presents itself.
The last time a big-time local college basketball team made it this far was Seton Hall in 2000 when it made qualified for Sweet 16 before losing to Oklahoma State in a 68-66 nailbiter. Guess who played on that team? Yep, Holloway. Now everything has come full circle for him. He is hoping to finish the deal this time as a head coach by getting to the Elite Eight and maybe to the Final Four.
Saint Peter’s going to the Sweet 16 should be a cause for celebration in the tri-state area. It’s rare we see this in our own backyard, especially a Cinderella story like this one. Saint Peter’s going to the Sweet 16 is the best sports story in town since the Giants denied the New England Patriots the perfect season in the Super Bowl.
The Peacocks continue to write their story. It’s all they wanted. A chance. That’s the beauty of March Madness when a team like Saint Peter’s gets an opportunity.
No matter what happens they are going to be on the One Shining Moment montage on CBS Sports after the national championship game ends.
They are not settling just for that. They want to cut the nets in New Orleans. They know they can do it.
It’s hard to argue after what we saw this weekend.
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