The legacy of Saint Peter’s March Madness will live on forever

PHILADELPHIA — The formal surrender ceremony came with 81 seconds remaining in the game. Finally, the drive to St. Peter’s Basilica would end here. It would end about 90 minutes from campus, after a magic carpet ride that had brought her so tantalizingly close to the sun. Now it was time to say goodbye.

There was a lull in the action. Five players jumped up and went to the scorer’s table. A free throw was taken. A buzzer sounded. And out of the game came Daryl Banks III and Matthew Lee, out came Hassan Drame and KC Ndefo and Doug Edert. They met with coach Shaheen Holloway before returning to the bench. Clarence Rupert joined them. And they hugged as one.

A final moment that would see the team that captured America’s heart united on the pitch. From now on it will forever be in the hearts, minds and memories of those who traveled with them.

“Cheer up!” Holloway ordered

you would. How could they not? Look what they did.

“What we did was incredible,” Ndefo later said after North Carolina lived up to his blue-blood pedigree by sending the Peacocks home 69-49, ending Saint Peter’s dream a step short of the Final Four.

“It’s a brotherhood. Words cannot describe what we have done. The fact that we’re the only team that can do that is historic. We are blessed with that.”

Clarence Rupert greets Saint Peter fans as he leaves the pitch.
Clarence Rupert greets Saint Peter fans as he leaves the pitch.
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In a way, it was clear Sunday that Saint Peter’s would pay for the behavior it had shown during that three-game merry-go-round as it knocked on Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue. They wouldn’t sneak up on Carolina. The Tar Heels were in their game from the start, looking nowhere near as frightened by the moment or by Saint Peter’s tenacity as Purdue had two days earlier.

And Saint Peter didn’t help himself by shooting from the field, freezing cold. Indoors, outdoors, drives, tip-ins; nothing went in. Even a beautifully designed alley-oop game from a time-out, exactly the kind of textbook design they’d been running all tournament, flopped. Maybe Saint Peter’s didn’t need to shoot 70 percent to win—they hadn’t done that at this tournament and still managed to shake the brackets—but 20 percent wouldn’t either.

Not against a fiancee Carolina. Not with the Final Four just a tiny step away – and the potential of an Armageddon rematch with Duke awaiting in New Orleans.

While so many at the Wells Fargo Center were barking and praying for the Peacocks’ power, Saint Peter’s fell into a fast 9-0 hole. Soon it was double digits. Just before halftime it was 20. The season, the run, the ride, it all started to die a little right there.

“I didn’t recognize my team for the first 10 minutes of the game,” Holloway said, regret already in his voice. “We were a bit slow, a bit shy. I thought we had a good game plan. They were just the better team today.”

Of course, even as he said it, Holloway was already reliving that remarkable game. He will soon be given other opportunities and if, as expected, he becomes Seton Hall manager this week, you can expect those opportunities to start as early as next year. He will have other runs.

Just not with this group.

“I wish we could play this game again,” he said.

And later: “I really thought we were going to win. To be honest, I thought we would be a good match for them.”

Doug Edert (left) and Isiah Dasher (right) embrace after Saint Peter's exited the NCAA tournament.
Doug Edert (left) and Isiah Dasher (right) embrace after Saint Peter’s exited the NCAA tournament.
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That’s what made this run so wonderful, so endearing: From the start, Holloway and its players have been the least surprised people in every room they’ve walked into over the past 11 days. You can call what they had irrational confidence, but you could also bottle it and sell it at that point. They want what they have.

“We got everyone’s attention,” Banks said, and they certainly did. Other teams have worn the glass slipper to these tournaments; none wore it as well as the Peacocks. From now on they are the gold standard. From now on, whenever a team takes the floor at an NCAA tournament with a low seed and high odds, they will tell themselves to remember St. Peter. Remember what the Peacocks did. Remember how they made this tournament their own.

Remember how they got you to believe the same thing Holloway did: Surely part of you thought you were going to win. Why not? Is there anything more beautiful in sport than believing in the impossible?

“Saint Peter’s made the Elite Eight,” Holloway said, smiling. “Great story.”

One of the best ever. The legacy of Saint Peter’s March Madness will live on forever


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