Time isn’t up for the biggest underdog of the N.C.A.A. men’s tournament just yet.
Tiny St. Peter’s University is alive and well and moving on to the final eight of the N.C.A.A. tournament after slaying yet another basketball powerhouse. Playing inspired defense and without any fear, the No. 15 seed Peacocks stunned No. 3 Purdue, 67-64, on Friday night before a crowd at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia that included many St. Peter’s fans who made the trip down the New Jersey Turnpike and roared in approval.
The Peacocks (22-11) will advance to face No. 8-seeded North Carolina in Sunday’s East regional final, with a chance to reach the Final Four in New Orleans. They have now knocked off No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Purdue and No. 7 Murray State to become the first seed 13 or lower to reach the final eight.
“I got a bunch of guys that just play basketball and have fun. That’s all we do,” St. Peter’s Coach Shaheen Holloway said in a television interview as his players drowned him out with jubilant celebrations.
The Peacocks captured national attention immediately after knocking off Kentucky — one of the national title favorites — before becoming just the third No. 15 seed to advance to the round of 16. St. Peter’s is the first New Jersey school to make it this far in the men’s tournament since Holloway was a point guard on the 2000 Seton Hall team.
“We’re happy but make no mistake, we’re not satisfied,” said guard Doug Edert, who finished with 10 points — including two clutch free throws in the final seconds — and jumped on a table while celebrating the victory. He added: “We feel like we belong and the more games we win, the more confidence we build.”
The game was tight throughout with 15 lead changes and both teams trading control deep into the second half. Purdue, known for its big, tall, athletic players, outrebounded and outscored St. Peter’s inside, but the Peacocks found a way to win anyway.
“They beat us like they beat the other two teams,” Purdue Coach Matt Painter said. He added: “They had a strong will, grimy, tough, into you.”
St. Peter’s guard Matthew Lee tied the game at 57 with 3:17 remaining, and exactly one minute later Daryl Banks III, the leading scorer for the Peacocks with 14 points, hit a driving layup for the lead. The teams traded baskets and free throws, but Purdue was unable to catch up. The Peacocks defense held Jaden Ivey, the Purdue star who is a projected N.B.A. lottery pick, to 9 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
The Peacocks arrived for Friday’s game wearing T-shirts that read “More Is Possible.”
“What are they going to say now?” Holloway said as his players celebrated behind him. “See you later.”
— Adam Zagoria
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