By Taris Young | @Taris_The_Gunna
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — Saint Peter’s just keeps on dancing. The 15th-seeded Peacocks upset No.7 seed Murray State Saturday night, snapping the Racers’ 21-game winning streak.
Saint Peter’s (21-11) became the third No.15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Peacocks join Oral Roberts, which reached a regional semifinal a year ago, and Florida Gulf Coast, which became the first to do it in 2013.
The Peacocks will meet Purdue or Texas in the East Region on Friday at Philadelphia. They became the first team in the history of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to reach a regional semifinal. Before Thursday, MAAC schools had a tournament record of 17-53 for a winning percentage of .243.
“Everybody keeps saying, ‘We can’t do this, we can’t do that. We don’t have this, we don’t have that,’” said Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway. “We’ve got heart, and that’s the only thing that matters.”
Saint Peter’s held the Racers more than 19 points beneath their average this season. Junior guard Doug Edert scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half for the Peacocks. Senior 6-foot-7 forward KC Ndefo, who was limited by foul trouble in the first-round upset of Kentucky, led the Peacocks with 17 points, seven above his average, on 5-of-10 shooting. Ndefo had 10 rebounds and blocked six shots. He held Murray State’s junior forward KJ Williams to 12 points and 22.2% shooting from the field. Williams averages 18.2 points per game on 54.5% shooting.
“He’s a very good player,” Ndefo said of Williams, who is three inches taller. “Just coming into the game, scouting him, you know, I know his tendencies, and just going in there and playing hard, 110%, and playing with the three Ds that coach preaches every day: Desire, dedication, and discipline.”
Edert called Ndefo the best defender in the country. “He does a tremendous job,” Edert said “He’s really our anchor back there. He’s blocking everybody. Anybody tries to dunk on him, he goes up to block it. And we feed off his energy on the defensive end.”
Murray State never held the lead, and Saint Peters led by as many as 13 points with 17:24 to play. The Racers kept cutting into the deficit, but Saint Peter’s would make a play to extend the lead. With the lead down to three points and junior guard Daryl Banks III charged with his fourth foul, Edert made two huge plays to cease the momentum of Murray State.
Edert’s floater gave the Peacocks a 59-54 lead with 4:24 to go. Murray State sophomore guard Justice Hill, who led all scorers with 19 points, then hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 59-57 with 4:05 to go. Edert hit a 3-pointer 29 seconds later to put the Peacocks up 62-57.
“I would say it comes from repetitions,” Edert said. “I always do my best to get as many shots as I can. I don’t think about anything when I’m in the game. I just let it happen. I’ve got to give credit to my teammates for setting amazing screens and to bring great passes. Good passes make good shooters, and the belief that my coaching staff has in me to take those shots and make them.”
Saint Peter’s junior forward Hassan Drame said, “This is not surprising to me. Since our freshman year when the game is on the line, Doug been making shots like that since our freshman year. So to be honest, this is not something that is really surprising to me, because I know he can make it.”
Banks, who scored 27 points in the victory over Kentucky, was held to six, more than five beneath his average. The Peacocks did not have a field goal for the last 2:58, but six free throws within 28 seconds in the final minute held off the Racers.
“As far as the Sweet 16, again, it’s another quick turnaround,” Edert said. “And we’re not going to get too high. What we did is amazing, but it’s already in the past, and we’ve got to move on and start preparing for the next team.”
Saint Peter’s is the first team from New Jersey to reach the Sweet 16 since 2000. The last team was Seton Hall, and their starting point guard was Shaheen Holloway.