St. Peter’s Beats Purdue, Is First 15-Seed in Elite Eight

Sport can be something to celebrate, sometimes almost without shame.

Especially when, somehow, a St. Peter’s unfolds right before your eyes.

On Friday—or National Peacock Day, which is really a thing—the St. Peter’s Peacocks, a men’s basketball team representing a tiny Jesuit commuter school residing in Jersey City, NJ, a town long overshadowed by the New York City skyline hovering across the Hudson River, defeated Big Ten power Purdue 67-64 in a East regional semifinal game in Philadelphia. After the “holy crap, this is happening” victory, St. Peter’s becomes the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight of the men’s basketball tournament; the Peacocks will face No. 8 seed North Carolina beat No. On Sunday, 4 UCLA will play against North Carolina. There is one prize at stake: a trip for four to New Orleans to see the Final Four. It starts on April 2.

The Peacocks knocked No. Kentucky was the 2nd-seeded team. This program has produced 27 NBA stars on the 2021-2022 roster. It is a school that won 8 national championships. 7 Murray State, which entered its game against St. Peter’s riding a 21-game winning streak, and now No. 3 Purdue, a squad featuring skilled 7’4″ and 6″10″ front-court players. The tallest St. Peter’s starter stands at 6’8″. Peacocks won no national championships, and there are zero NBA players. Rich Rinaldi was the last Peacock to play in the NBA. He played seven games in 1973-74 for the Captial Bullets.

Purdue’s total enrollment was 49,639 students this fall; St. Peter’s has 3.009. Purdue’s men’s basketball team generates $15.1 million in annual revenue, according to federal data; St. Peter’s, which plays its home games in a small gym called Run Baby Run Arena, brings in $1.6 million. Tax records show that St. Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway made $266,344 in total compensation 2019: Purdue coach Matt Painter earned $3.2 million in salary this year.

Upsets—or even the hopes of an upset—drive interest in sports, and what a week it was for underdogs. North Macedonia won 1-0 against Italy in international soccer’s World Cup qualifier match. The victory knocked Italy (a four-time World Cup winner) out of the World Cup. Soccer pundits called it one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history.

And now this, St. Peter’s in the Elite Eight, against bluest of the blue-blood North Carolina (a dozen current NBA players, six national titles, $26.2 million in men’s basketball revenue). While the Peacocks may be called Cinderellas, that is no longer true. This team is definitely a title contender. In its first three games, St. Peter’s beat teams seeded higher than its regional final opponent, the No. 8 Tar Heels. If anything, St. Peter’s should be expected to give North Carolina a game, if not send the Tar Heels home. Peacocks are very good at defense and scrapping for loose balls and rebound. They also have a motion-heavy offense that generates opportunities for their quick bigs and sharpshooting guards.

Holloway, a coach star, speaks in viral videos. “I got guys from New Jersey and New York City,” he said after his team beat Murray State in the second round last week. “You think we’re scared of anything?” That line, in true New Jersey fashion, wound up on a billboard off Route 4 in Bergen County.

After St. Peter’s historic win over Purdue, Holloway said on CBS: “I’ve got a bunch of guys who just play basketball and have fun. That’s all we do.”

Following, he sent out a message to all those who doubted that the No. The 15-seeded team was the real deal.

“What are the gonna say now?” he told an interviewer, before bidding adieu. “See you later.”

Shaheen, see you Sunday. Can’t wait.

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