PHILADELPHIA — Cinderella’s latest chapter began with a strut, from the peace and quiet of a Wells Fargo Center hallway into the spotlight. The Saint Peter’s Peacocks had attracted it, of course, with this magical March Madness run, and grown used to it, but a row of cameramen flocking to film them … walking into an arena?
A few glanced sideways, almost taken aback.
Then they settled into a locker room, and tugged on warmup shirts with a statement of intent printed on the fronts: “MORE IS POSSIBLE.”
And then, over two-plus hours here, they proved it was.
They shocked third-seeded Purdue, 67-64, in a Sweet 16 game that oddsmakers didn’t expect to be close. They thrilled a sold-out crowd wearing various shades of blue that, on a night that will live on in NCAA tournament record books, all became Saint Peter’s blue.
They became the first No. 15 seed to win a third game in the tournament.
They’ll advance to play either North Carolina or UCLA.
As Jaden Ivey’s potential game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out, they burst across the court toward their loyal fans in ecstasy. Doug Edert, their viral hero, climbed up on a courtside table and saluted them.
The Peacocks, all night long, savored the spotlight, but weren’t overwhelmed by it. They craned their necks to peer up at the Wells Fargo Center’s colossal video board, to watch a pregame montage commemorating their own run; but then they got to work. They glued their eyes to head coach Shaheen Holloway, his last-minute commands animated, his charm and expertise captivating.
They hung with Purdue for four minutes, then eight. For 12 minutes, then 16. For a half, then another half of a half, and it became clear that they were here to stay.
Every time the Boilermakers threatened to pull away, the Peacocks answered. Freshman Clarence Rupert smirked after splashing a 3. Fellow freshman Jaylen Murray, generously listed at 5-foot-11, skied for a rebound. Daryl Banks III soared for an alley-oop dunk. Doug Edert, the viral sharpshooter, hit a triple, and the Saint Peter’s fans, who’d made the short drive up Interstate-95, exploded. Every bucket felt like a capital-M Moment.
Holloway, meanwhile, was as calm as could be. He crossed his arms. He slipped his hands into his pockets. He chatted with refs. As his fans roared, he knowingly, nonchalantly nodded his head. He knew what America had only recently learned: That his guys could play.
One of those fans, upon settling into his front-row seat, remarked: “This is history right here. This is history.”
The Peacocks played with poise, as if it were open gym.
They erased a four-point halftime deficit in no time, with active defense and energy, and took a four-point lead. They forced turnovers and shot-clock violations. Purdue coach Matt painter called timeout to quiet a crescendoing crowd, which had filled in with UCLA and North Carolina fans, all of whom had latched onto the underdog. And they were growing in confidence. More, indeed, seemed possible.
The Boilermakers emerged from the timeout and pieced together an 8-0 run that stated, matter-of-factly: “We’re better than you.”
The Peacocks responded: “We don’t care.” They pressed and disrupted Purdue’s rhythm. They drained back-to-back 3s and leveled the score at 45. Fousseyni Drame’s 3 with 6:21 remaining gave them a 50-49 lead.
Purdue went back to Williams, and back again. With under four minutes to play, after three Edert free throws, the crowd rose, but there the Boilermakers went, into the post. Saint Peter’s star KC Ndefo fouled Williams, and fouled out. Holloway, on the sideline, dropped to one knee, devastated.
But of course he got up. Of course his players began clapping in the huddle. Of course Banks tied the game with a turnaround jumper. Of course the Peacocks forced an air ball, and a shot-clock violation, at the other end. Of course Banks gave the Peacocks yet another lead with two minutes remaining. Of course they held on for victory.
That, in a nutshell, is Saint Peter’s basketball. That, in a nutshell, was their Friday fight. That, in a nutshell, is why more was possible, and more still is.