PHILADELPHIA — Amid one of the most audacious upsets in NCAA tournament history, Saint Peter coach Shaheen Holloway’s most demonstrative celebration didn’t come in the fray after -match or in the progress of the locker room.
It came after possession of a St. Peter that ultimately defined the Peacocks’ historic upset on Friday night. As No. 15 Saint Peter’s headed for the crescendo of a 67-64 Purdue Axis win over No. 3 Purdue, they forced the Boilermakers into a clock violation early in the second half.
Holloway celebrated with a fist-pump so violent he pirouetted the sideline, the couple ignited by the adrenaline rush of joy that accompanies perfect defensive possession. This whirlwind symbolized how Saint Peter’s authored an upset Sweet 16 that featured no star players or singular moments, but rather the collective will of 10 indomitable players who watched NCAA tournament history and didn’t never blinked.
“It’s who we are,” Holloway told ESPN late Friday night. “That’s what unites us. Not hitting a 3-pointer. That’s what keeps our team going. Once that’s happened, we have to get everyone excited to do it. Then we get some another, and another.”
The Peacocks have done just that with NCAA Tournament games, winning one after another. By surviving Purdue in front of a frenzied crowd at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday night, they set a historic new standard for underdog success in the NCAA Tournament. And they did it with a distinct defensive touch.
Saint Peter’s became the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, channeling their unwavering coach. Holloway’s resting side face is a growl that seemingly demands effort and intensity.
To put the unlikelihood of Saint Peter’s victory in historical context, consider that no No. 13 or No. 14 seeded team and only two No. 12 seeds qualified for the Elite Eight – Missouri in 2002 and Oregon State last year.
A 13-point underdog on Friday, Saint Peter’s was also an 18.5-point underdog against Kentucky in the first round, making the Peacocks the only team to win multiple games as double-digit underdogs in an NCAA tournament. since its expansion in 1985, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. They were 8-point underdogs to Murray State in the second round.
Over eight decades, hundreds of teams and thousands of NCAA tournament games, the Saint Peter run has reset the standard for upset runs.
“We’re making history and we can’t wait to make more,” said Peacocks goaltender Doug Edert, who scored seven of his 10 points from the free throw line.
That next potential all-time marker comes Sunday against No. 8 North Carolina, which beat No. 4 UCLA 71-66 on Friday night. Considering the Peacocks have outplayed No. 2 Kentucky, No. 7 Murray State and No. 3 Purdue during their exuberant run, they certainly won’t be intimidated by the latest garish logo in the bracket.
The aura of surprise might be best exemplified by the amazement of the Boilermakers players following the loss. As the last of Saint Peter’s staff boarded the team bus on the chilly Philadelphia night, Purdue center Zach Edey strolled through the parking lot alone, with no teammates or Boilermaker staff in sight.
Purdue’s last Final Four was in 1980, and it marked the program’s fourth Sweet 16 in five years. It also marked another wasted opportunity. This was reflected in the reactions of the Boilermakers players after the game.
Purdue missed its first 10 3-pointers in the second half, turned the ball over more than 15 times and went nearly five minutes without scoring a field goal late in the second half, some of which came from struggles with the Saint Peter area.
“Honestly, I’m still in shock,” Purdue senior center Trevion Williams said. “It just doesn’t feel real.”
“Honestly, my mind is blank right now,” said senior Sasha Stefanovic.
“It’s eating you up, man,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
He added: “These guys have won 29 games and then you feel bad.”
Saint Peter’s had three double-digit scorers, led by Daryl Banks’ 14 points. The Peacocks went 10 deep, with forward Clarence Rupert both scoring 11 points and absorbing post shots from 7-foot-4 Edey and 255-pound Williams.
The late turn came when the Peacocks moved to a 2-3 game zone with nearly four minutes remaining. They had just thrown a clean offensive set which led to Edert foul on a double screen and convert three free throws to fire Saint-Pierre in one.
Purdue looked baffled by zone on the next possession, but still got a Williams free throw. From there, the Boilermakers offense fell apart. They ended up going scoreless on the field from 5:18 to 25 seconds, and even that came on a backhand from Mason Gillis.
Along the way, there was another near-perfect defensive possession that ended with a weak 3-point attempt from Purdue star Jaden Ivey as the shot clock expired. Ivey finished just 4 for 12 for nine points, including 1 for 6 from 3-point range.
During this streak, Purdue’s offense stalled and Holloway’s adjustment allowed Saint Peter’s to take the lead. Saint Peter’s went 11-for-11 from the free-throw line in the final 4:02 and 17-for-18 in the second half.
“You would think a No. 15 seed who wins a game would be shaken up,” Saint Peter athletic director Rachelle Paul said. “But it’s a direct reflection of the coach [Holloway].”
Paul pointed out that Saint Peter’s “morphed into Team USA” almost overnight, and he doesn’t seem particularly keen on giving up that spot.
Holloway has consistently taken the attention and credit away from his players, as he refused to make an opening statement at the post-match press conference. Twenty-two years ago, as a Seton Hall player, Holloway injured his ankle in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and was unable to play in Seton Hall’s Sweet 16 game.
Asked about the karmic rebound of seizing his tournament opportunity 22 years later, Holloway paused for a second and turned to his players.
“These guys, man,” he told ESPN. “A bunch of kids that nobody really wanted and thought they couldn’t play. It’s unbelievable. I couldn’t be happier for them.”
The last chance to make history awaits Sunday.