Something is wrong with St. Peter’s Basilica. Set aside for a moment as the Peacocks continue to win the games. It’s hard enough to figure out what they’re doing well.
№ 2, Kentucky failed, Murray State, who sat seventh, did not, and by the end of their Sweet 16 match on Friday, № 3 Purdue was left to catch his breath. Here’s a brief answer to how the Peacocks became the first in the history of the NCAA 15-seeded tournament to book a place in the elite eight.
St. Petersburg has not long enjoyed experienced players such as mid-major, who in recent years have flipped tables at tournaments. The Peacocks are also not big, which means the 6-foot-7 KC Ndefo, their best and most experienced player, often plays out of position. They don’t have a real star, let alone a confident prospect in the NBA.
What they do better than anyone else is turn those doubts into fuel.
“What,” coach Shahin Holloway asked after his Peacocks beat the Boilermakers 67-64, “are they going to say now?”
“Good luck” would be a good start, as “St. Peter’s” in Sunday’s Eastern Regional Finals will play in North Carolina Blue Blood, which is already a record for the number of appearances in the Final Four (20). Tar Heels beat UCLA 73-66 after Caleb Love balanced the game and scored a three-pointer at 37-second intervals, then added two free-kicks in 7.8 seconds to solidify the win.
In the first half, Love scored 1 on 8, and in the course that will likely be noted in the sneaker ad, if you read this, changed his shoes during the break after Eric Huts, the team’s director of operations, offered to move. Love went 10 on 16 in the second.
“I’m going to give him a raise,” Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said, referring to Huts, not Love.
Coach Bill Self may be in line for a pay raise after the Kansas Jayhawks, the only number one left, blocked Providence on the defensive floor and endured a 66-61 victory. In that deal, Kansas opposed No. 10 in Miami, and was ahead of Kentucky in most of the victories in Division I history since 2354.
However, the story was not easy. Although they scored just 17 points in the first half and trailed by 13 at the start of the second half, the Friars stepped behind Noah Horchler, who scored a pair of three-pointers, and in mid-2008 scored 41-40. Horchler then added the score when 5:49 left to give Providence the first lead with a score of 48-47.
“I don’t know that I’m totally buying 100 percent so we’re never annoyed,” Self said afterwards. “But I think … our league (Big 12) has prepared us for how you play so many close games. Every game is a fist fight. “
The Hurricanes beat Iowa’s 11th seeded 70-56 in the night’s game, although the meeting of the two most stifling defenders left in the tournament was largely one-sided. In the second half, “Cyclones” threw 32%, turning the ball 18 more times.
Cameron McGusty of Miami topped all the scorers with 27 points while shooting 10 of 18 and added six rebounds.
“At the beginning of the season, if we told you we were going to Elite Eight, everyone would laugh at us and look at us like crazy,” McGusty said. “Even after three weeks of the season, everyone was looking at us crazy.”
Peacocks, and especially their 45-year-old coach, know this feeling. The arch of Holloway’s basketball career is worthy of a documentary, though probably a few more chapters still need to be written, and the one about his stay in St. Peter’s may be nearing completion.
Holloway was one of the best playmakers in the country in high school, receiving MVP awards at the 1996 McDonald’s All-American Games in such as Kobe Bryant, Richard Hamilton and Mike Bibi. He turned down scholarship offers from Duke, Kansas and Syracuse to stay close to home, and chose Setan Hall.
An amazing ankle injury in the 2000 tournament game against Temple ended his career in college and his chances of playing in the NBA. Instead of being bitter about what could have happened, he went to work preparing to become a coach. The two themes that defined Holloway — loyalty and the “choose yourself after you were beaten” mentality — proved insurmountable in the collection of unnoticed and under-recruited people he drew to a tiny suburban school in Jersey City.
After all, what peacocks do well depends on the night. Against Kentucky Daryl Banks III scored 27 points. Against Purdue he was late but scored only 14 points. Clarence Rupert added 11 and fought Boilermakers 7 feet 4 Zach Eddie in paint all over. Doug Edert added 10, including two free throws that finished off Purdue.
St. Peter will be a big outsider again if he meets North Carolina. The fact that the Peacocks will not be, is admirable.
Asked after Murray was upset as his players coped with being pushed by a larger, more experienced team, Holloway just scoffed. His answer became the peacock mantra.
“I have guys from New Jersey and New York,” he said. “Do you think we’re afraid of something?”