Not many people knew about Saint Peter’s University a few weeks ago. Now, the Peacocks are the Cinderella team that most of the country is rooting for in the Sweet 16. Head coach Shaheen Holloway is shining bright on the same stage he did as a Seton Hall player in 2000 — the NCAA Tournament.
Holloway helped bring a small school from Jersey City, New Jersey out of obscurity and into the bright lights. After knocking off 2-seed Kentucky and 10-seed Murray State, the Peacocks will challenge the 3-seed Purdue Boilermakers for a coveted spot in the Elite Eight.
Win or lose, Holloway and his players are showing college basketball and the world their DNA.
Shaheen Holloway on what makes Saint Peter’s different
Saint Peter’s has been easily the biggest story of the NCAA Tournament thus far. Shaheen Holloway’s squad posted a 21-11 record and won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament to punch a ticket to the Big Dance. The Peacocks didn’t show up in Indianapolis for a participation trophy. They came to steal the show.
Who could’ve predicted this? If you ask Holloway, he’ll tell you he knew his team could do something special. The fourth-year head coach suggests the team takes on the identity of its city, Jersey City.
“It’s a tough town,” Holloway said per Kyle Tucker of The Athletic. “It’s a good town, and it’s a blue-collar town. In my own rights, I think I’m a tough guy, a tough kid. I like to get guys that fit my personality, fit what I’m about. You’re coming to a school like this, you gotta understand where it’s at. You bring guys in who understand that.”
Playing on the big stage against powerhouse programs isn’t for the faint of heart. Well, it’s a good thing Saint Peter’s is all about toughness.
“I don’t walk in a gym trying to find the best guy,” Holloway added. “Give me the right guy, not the best guy. All the guys I got, I scouted them myself, and I asked, ‘Can he play for me?’ If you don’t love the game, if you don’t want to be coached, if you’re not tough, you can’t play for me.”
The small New Jersey school is representing the underdogs
Saint Peter’s entered the NCAA Tournament playing with house money. Not many people gave them a shot at beating Kentucky in the Round of 64. Then, the run was supposed to end against Murray State. However, the Peacocks had other plans in mind, and now they’re heading to the Sweet 16.
Shaheen Holloway and company are already making history. Saint Peter’s is the first school from the MAAC to reach the Sweet 16. The head coach believes to last in the gym with him, one must have the makeup of a champion even if they don’t look like one on the surface.
“I want to show people the stigma about African American coaches, that we can only recruit, not coach, is wrong,” Holloway said. “And I’m proving people wrong every day. It’s showing people you don’t judge a book by its cover, right? Don’t try to fit certain people into certain boxes. It’s not right to tell someone, ‘This is the only thing you can do.’ I think we’re showing people if you put in the work, you can be any damn thing.”
The Peacocks are accomplishing things young basketball players in the world can only dream of doing. The culture Holloway and the coaching staff built put this team together.
“This was the pitch right here,” said senior guard and Jersey City native Isiah Dasher. “This is the dream come true.”
How can the Peacocks shock the world again vs. Purdue?
The first two upset victories are in the rearview. Saint Peter’s now turns its attention to the Purdue Boilermakers in the Sweet 16.
Knocking off Matt Painter’s crew won’t be easy. The Boilermakers have the second-highest offensive efficiency ranking in the country, shooting well inside and out. Sophomore guard Jaden Ivey is one of the best players in the country and a surefire NBA prospect.
Purdue also has a pair of big men in Zach Edey and Trevion Williams, who could potentially cause problems in the paint for the Peacocks.
On the Saint Peter’s end of things, Shaheen Holloway’s guys don’t back down. KC Ndefo is 6-foot-7, but he’s one of the best interior defenders left in the NCAA Tournament. He must have a big game on both ends of the floor. The Peacocks will also rely on guards Daryl Banks and Doug Edert to get to the bucket and create opportunities for their teammates.
Saint Peter’s has already busted just about everyone’s bracket. What’s another giant to slay?
The Peacocks could make sweet history.
All stats courtesy of College Basketball Reference