The improbable run through the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has ended for St. Peter’s, as the Peacocks fell to the UNC Tar Heels 69-49 Sunday night. The small Jesuit school in Jersey City, New Jersey, made history as the only 15th seed to get as far as the elite eight.
The loss sets up a showdown between UNC and Duke in the Final Four, the first ever meeting between the storied rivals in the NCAA tournament. Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski is looking to cap his final season with an NCAA title.
The two teams met at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the final game of the regular season on March 5. Some 90 former Duke players and plenty of celebrities were on hand to watch Coach K in his final ever home game, but the Tar Heels spoiled the fun with a decisive 94-81 victory.
Sunday’s win also gave UNC the most NCAA tournament wins of all time, breaking a tie with the Kentucky Wildcats, who have had multiple wins vacated due to NCAA violations and were upset in the first round this year by St. Peter’s.
Saint Peter’s missed 16 of its first 20 shots and 6 of 7 3s and never led on Sunday.
The Peacocks, who snapped an NCAA-best 10-game winning streak, were done in by Carolina’s D — and even the rim. Banks was stuffed by the front of the rim on a monster dunk attempt. Armando Bacot came right down for the Tar Heels and used a thunderous, two-handed jam to show Saint Peter’s how it’s done.
By halftime, Saint Peter’s needed a Hail Mary. North Carolina 38, Saint Peter’s 19.
The final minutes of the game might have been the final minutes of Holloway’s tenure at Saint Peter’s. Holloway is a leading candidate to succeed Kevin Willard as coach at Seton Hall, his alma mater. He deflected questions all tournament about his future and kept the focus on the tiny commuter college in Jersey City, New Jersey. But even the 45-year-old Holloway surely must know he has maxed out the potential at Saint Peter’s.
But what Holloway and the Peacocks accomplished in two weekends might be the lasting memory of this tournament, no matter which blueblood cuts down the net next week in New Orleans.
Saint Peter’s knocked off No. 2 seed Kentucky to start a run that launched the rocket toward endorsement deals, morning show spots and late-night TV wisecracks.
That win alone — down goes Coach Cal! — should have been enough to sustain the program for decades to come. But then came a win over seventh-seeded Murray State and a date in the Sweet 16. Up next, the big, bad, Big Ten Boilermakers. FanDuel Sportsbook had Purdue at a 12 1/2-point favorite to win the Sweet 16 matchup Friday in Philadelphia. The last thing Purdue saw as it trudged off the court was delirious Peacocks jumping on press row tables, making snowmen on the court and celebrating an improbable 67-64 victory.
About 93 miles up the New Jersey Turnpike, about 2,000 fans turned out at the Saint Peter’s bandbox known as Run Baby Run Arena for a watch party. It was a scene impossible to image when a little more than 400 fans attended the season opener.
The fan club grew as the wins piled up — all fun until the run was snuffed out by a team from Tobacco Road.
Holloway emptied the bench with 1:21 left and pulled together the Peacocks for one final huddle. Their arms locked, Holloway gave a brief speech to Edert, Banks and the rest — perhaps the last one he will ever give at Saint Peter’s.