PHILADELPHIA — Doug Edert hopped on the press table and punched his fist in the air toward a delirious section of Saint Peter’s fans — aren’t they all? — as his teammates thumped their chests and flashed eight fingers as the mayhem became a perfect Peacock party.
Edert’s giant leap toward the roaring crowd might have been his only mistake of the night.
“You jumped on a table?” coach Shaheen Holloway asked later, then paused for some serious side-eye for comedic effect.
C’mon, Coach. Let the Peacocks strut their stuff.
The upsets aren’t over yet and the tiny commuter college in Jersey City, New Jersey, is still outperforming all March expectations. Next stop: the Elite Eight, a first-time destination for a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re making history,” Edert said. “We’re looking forward to making more history.”
Daryl Banks III scored the tying and go-ahead baskets that pushed Saint Peter’s to the brink of the Final Four, the suddenly popular Peacocks thriving off a home-court edge to beat third-seeded Purdue 67-64 on Friday night.
The Peacocks (22-11) added the Boilermakers to their string of upsets and will face North Carolina in the East Region final on Sunday.
Saint Peter’s had the fans inside the packed Wells Fargo Center on its side from the opening tip and the arena erupted when Banks tied the game 57-all on a turnaround jumper. He hit a driving layup with 2:17 left that made it 59-57.
The Peacocks kept their composure — hey, they’re used to these wins by now after knocking off No. 2 seed Kentucky and seventh-seeded Murray State — and held off a Purdue team that gamely tried to bully them inside.
“What they going to say now?” Holloway said about his team’s doubters, a group whose numbers are dwindling.
The Boilermakers (29-8), 12 1/2-point favorites according to FanDuel Sportsbook, never led by more than six.
Almost 30 years to the day that Duke’s Christian Laettner stunned Kentucky with an overtime buzzer-beater to win a regional final at the since-razed Spectrum, Purdue and Saint Peter’s pulled off their own Philly classic.
Saint Peter’s fans made the 93-mile ride south to help pack the arena and give the Peacocks more of an edge than they usually have at their bandbox known as Run Baby Run Arena. Consider, just 434 fans were listed as the total attendance for Saint Peter’s home opener this season against LIU.
More than that turned out to give the team a Sweet 16 sendoff from campus this week.
“Everybody wanted tickets. I can’t get tickets for everybody,” Holloway said. “I’ll tell you what, man, I can’t believe the support that we’re having. This is unbelievable. Jersey City has been unbelievable for us.”
Even more basketball fans — yes, even those whose brackets the Peacocks helped bust — were suddenly rooting for Saint Peter’s, an unassuming campus just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan.
Jaden Ivey buried an NBA-distance 3 with 8 seconds left that pulled Purdue within 65-64 and momentarily shushed the crowd.
No worries. Edert, whose wispy mustache and goofy persona earned him a fast-food chicken endorsement deal, sank two free throws to seal the win.
Edert then led the madness on the court and took it to the table. He saluted fans in the first few rows as the rest of the Peacocks mobbed each other and hugged before they gathered at the basket to celebrate — one more time — the biggest win in program history.
“Yeah. I found a little opening and started moving stuff,” Edert said of his table hop. “I don’t know, I was so excited.”
The Peacocks dropped and made snowmen on the court and soon there was a huge celebration of fans jamming the concourse chanting “S-P-U! S-P-U!” The Saint Peter’s students and fans celebrated like they won a championship. Saint Peter’s had never won an NCAA Tournament game and now, they’ll just keep on dancing for at least one more game.
The school is tiny. The players are small. It makes no sense. Yet this is what March is about, right?
The Peacocks were the third No. 15 seed ever to reach the Sweet 16. Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 and Oral Roberts last year both failed to reach the regional final. Only two 12 seeds have made it to a regional final.
Meanwhile, a Final Four berth remains elusive for Boilermakers coach Matt Painter and his perennial Big Ten contender.
“I wish I could have coached better, wish we could have played a little bit better,” Painter said. “But that’s part of competition.”
Banks led the Peacocks with 14 points, Clarence Rupert scored 11 and Edert had 10. Trevion Williams had 16 points and eight rebounds for Purdue.
The Boilermakers missed 16 of 21 3-pointers and made 15 turnovers. Ivey was only 4 of 12 for nine points.
“I’m still in shock, honestly,” Williams said.
Join the club.
Before the game, Saint Peter’s players lay on their backs at half court as they did their stretching routine, most looking up at the big screen that replayed highlights from last weekend’s wins that got the team to Philadelphia.
By now, the Peacocks’ run is etched as the story of the tournament. Beating Kentucky and coach John Calipari was shocking enough. Eight days later, they’re still in the bracket.
The Peacocks lived by Holloway’s mantra: “I got guys from New Jersey and New York City. You think we’re scared of anything?”
They certainly weren’t scared of the Boilermakers.
Purdue used its massive size advantage and dumped the ball inside to 7-foot-4 Zach Edey for easy dunks and Sasha Stefanovic hit three 3s to offset nine turnovers.
When Holloway talked about his players as New York and New Jersey tough, he should have thrown Philly into the mix. Rupert grew up in Philly and heard the loudest ovation of all the Peacocks during lineup introductions. He scored all of his points in the first half and kept the Peacocks within four at the break.
“I feel like there’s no pressure,” Edert said.
MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION
Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey traveled from Connecticut after her team practiced Friday to watch her son Jaden play in his first Sweet 16. She had a car waiting for her after the Irish’s practice to make the 2 1/2-hour trip. Notre Dame faces North Carolina State in the women’s Sweet 16 on Saturday morning.
The No. 8 seed Tar Heels beat fourth-seeded UCLA 73-66 and will seek to end the Peacocks’ unforgettable March.
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