INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Not too big in every way, Saint Peter’s has become the NCAA Tournament’s newest darling that only the most die-hard fans know about before it even steps onto the field emblazoned with the March Madness logo.
These proud Peacocks from Jersey City, New Jersey, became the third 15th seed to advance to the Round of 16 Sweet, first knocking out eight-time national champion Kentucky from the group stage and then later knocked out Murray State in a 70-60 win as a builder. on Saturday night.
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Even the middleweight Murray State is taller and more athletic than the Peacocks, but that doesn’t bother coach Shaheen Holloway or his 195-pound 6-foot-7 forward, KC Ndefo, who has 17 points and 10 rebounds. and play bruised defense at the rim.
“I will say this. It will sound a little crazy. I have people from New Jersey and New York City,” Holloway said. “You think we’re scared of anything? You think we’re worried about guys trying to gain muscle and giving us a hard time? “
Yes, the 3,000-student Jesuit school has a big Jersey perspective.
“We’ve been playing with bigger teams the whole time. So they’re a little bit bigger and stronger, which doesn’t faze us. When you have tough, hard-nosed kids, they’re ready to play,” Holloway said.
They were ready enough to break the hearts of the Kentuckians twice in three days and joined the Florida Gulf Coast (2013) and Oral Roberts (last year) as 15 seeds in the regional semifinals.
Saint Peter’s (November 21) ended a 21-game winning streak and a memorable season for Murray State (March 31), located 265 miles from Lexington in the southwest corner of Kentucky.
Memories will be lifelong for the Peacocks and Holloway, a North Jersey troubadour who played at Seton Hall and apprenticed there as an assistant. On Friday, Pirates coach Kevin Willard confirmed Holloway as his replacement should he depart in the off-season.
The last team from New Jersey to make it to the Round of 16 Sweet? That would be Seton Hall in 2000, with Holloway at the guard post.
“I am a decent player. I am small. Everyone counted me out. So I’ve got something to prove every time. So I coached that way,” he said.
His next chance comes Friday in Philadelphia with either Texas or Purdue.
Doug Edert came on from the bench to score 13 points for the Peacocks, including some big late shots. Saint Peter’s took a 13-point lead early in the second half and never trailed, but Murray State still made it tense. Justice Hill hit a 3 pointer to put the Riders in lap 59-57 with 4:07 remaining. Next was Edert with a 3 and a throw, and the Peacocks finished it at the free-throw line.
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“I always try my best to get as many shots as I can,” Edert said. “I don’t think about anything when I’m in the game. I just let it happen.”
Hill made five 3s for 19 points and Tevin Brown scored 14 for Murray State. The first-half foul hurt the Drivers, who had to find a way to keep DJ Burns and Nicholas McMullen in the game with three fouls.
Shooting was also an issue: The Racers shot 35%, including 9 out of 28 in the first round. Saint Peter’s finished at 42% and ended the game with a 6-0 win for a ninth straight win. KJ Williams had 12 points and Trae Hannibal scored 10 before leaving the game late with an ankle injury. Murray State also had no starting guard Carter Collins, who flipped his ankle against San Francisco in the first round.
“It is difficult because you care. It’s tough because it makes sense for you,” said riders coach Matt McMahon. “Because you are passionate about it. These guys have invested a lot to get this historic season into place. You definitely don’t want it to end.”
Saint Peter’s took the lead of Murray State 38-31 and took control of the table 32-20. The two teams combined to foul 46 times. The Peacocks converted 23 of 31 from the row while the racers made 16 of 25.
Saint Peter’s was undaunted in his extra-time victory over second seed Kentucky and showed no fear this time either. The campus was buzzing after that win, and Holloway said he received more than 800 text messages. The Peacocks will likely get a hero’s welcome back to Jersey City.
Murray State finally rallied back after initial fouling issues, but for the first time since late December, the Drivers did not finish a game.
“It was a disappointment,” Brown said. “We don’t feel like we’ve lost a game for a long time.”
Saint Peter’s gets to watch his next opponent on TV when sixth seed Texas meets third seed Purdue in Milwaukee on Sunday.
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