The saying “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” often applies to sports. The case of the Saint Peter’s Peacocks men’s basketball team is a good example. After losing to the Siena Saints 84-70 Feb. 20 for the second time this season, giving them a record of 12-11 and 10-6 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Saint Peter’s won seven straight games, including a 60-54 win over Monmouth in the MAAC championship, to earn an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament and a No. 15 seed in the East region.
Before entering the field of 68 single-elimination tournament, St. Peter’s was 19-11, representing the small, private Jesuit university in Jersey City, New Jersey that began the school year with a combined undergraduate and graduate school enrollment of a little more than 3,000 students. Two wins later, they are 21-11 and have captured the attention of the nation.
The underdog Peacocks have taken a short drive to Philadelphia where they will be playing the East’s No. 3-seed Purdue Boilermakers in the Sweet 16 tomorrow night (7:09 tip-off) at the Wells Fargo Center. They arrived there by first defeating the No. 2-seed Kentucky Wildcats 85-79 in overtime last Thursday and then the No. 7-seed Murray State Racers 70-60 on Saturday.
St. Peter’s head coach Shaheen Hollway, a 45-year-old Queens native who was a McDonald’s high school All-American in 1996 attending St. Patrick’s in Elizabeth, N.J., before a stellar four-years at Seton Hall prior to a pro career from 2000-07, reflects his team’s confidence and swagger.
“At the end of the day, every team that made it to the NCAA Tournament deserves to be here,” said Holloway, now in his fourth year leading the Peacocks, after the win over Kentucky. “Every team that made it to the NCAA Tournament believes they can advance. It’s about this night.”
Junior guard Daryl Banks III scored a team-high 27 points against Kentucky’s blue chip roster. Peacocks’ guard Doug Edert, also a junior, contributed 20 points off the bench. Versus Murray senior forward KC Ndefo from Elmont, N.Y. (Long Island) posted 17 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocked shots.
Aided by the Nutley, N.J. product Edert, who had 13 points, including 10 straight late in the second half, Ndefo and his teammates erased the Racers from the tournament and became only the third 15 seed ever to advance to a regional semifinal. Oral Roberts last year and Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 are the others.
Purdue, out of the Big Ten Conference, defeated Yale 78-56 in their opening game and knocked out Texas 81-71 on Sunday to be one of the remaining sixteen. A win against Purdue would move St. Peter’s into the Elite Eight, only one victory away from the Final Four.