St. Peter’s, a “Cinderella Story” for the Ages

The St. Peter’s Peacocks gave basketball fans across the country the very thing they wanted — a true “Cinderella Story”. A team that began its season with a home-opener with 434 fans (yes, only 434 fans) in attendance, became the first 15-seed in March Madness History to reach the Elite 8. Their March Madness run embodied more than basketball; as senior Tyler Ippolito explained, “[St. Peter’s run] showed that people should strive to be great no matter what people think or say about you.” 

St. Peter’s University, a school with about 2,300 undergraduate students, is located in Jersey City, NJ. The school’s campus and the city were electric during the team’s incredible run; each game, the small school gym was packed with excited fans. This was a lot different than the average attendance at each game this season: only 546 fans.

The Peacocks finished the regular season 16-11. The team entered the MAAC conference tournament as a second-seed, and outlasted Fairfield University 77-63 in its first game. The team beat Quinnipiac 64-52 in the semifinals and punched its ticket with a 60-54 victory over Monmouth University in the finals. As the winner of its conference, it automatically got a bid into the NCAA tournament. 

St. Peter’s opened the NCAA Tournament as the 15 seed in the East Region of the bracket. It faced off against the talented Kentucky Wildcats led by coaching legend John Calipari. Like many low-ranked seeds, the Peacocks wanted their “Shining Moment,” so they took the Wildcats to overtime and beat them 85-79 in the Round of 64. 

Only 10 15-seeds have ever made it to the Round of 32, the second round of March Madness. In their second matchup, St. Peter’s squared off against seventh-seed Murray State. They pulled off a 70-60 upset, becoming the third 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16. 

But the Peacocks were not done dancing. In the third round of the tournament, the Peacocks shocked the nation, beating the third seed and runner-up in the Big Ten Tournament, the Purdue Boilermakers. The 67-64 last-minute victory made the team the first 15-seed to ever reach the Elite 8.

The miraculous run was ended by the North Carolina Tar Heels in a decisive 69-49 victory. The magic ran out, but the run of the century will never be forgotten. Senior Kyla Nembach explained her favorite part about the team’s run: “They had nothing to lose, and they came out and played like it. St. Peter’s run shocked the world!”

The Peacocks were led by head coach Shaheen Holloway. Though most would not have known his name before this tournament run, he has had an impressive basketball career. He grew up in New Jersey, and, instead of taking Duke’s basketball offer, he stayed home for college and played for Seton Hall. There, he took his team to the Sweet 16. Previously, he had won MVP of the 1996 McDonald’s All-American game, beating out Kobe Bryant and Stephen Jackson for the honor. After his collegiate career, he was an assistant coach at Iona College and later Seton Hall. In the spring of 2018, he began his head coaching career for the St. Peter’s Peacocks. His New Jersey grit has led him to recruit players from the New York Metropolitan area.

Daryl Banks III is the only player on the team that played high school basketball West of Philadelphia; he is from California and has been an impact player all season. Fousseyni and Hassan Drame, twins from Mali, sub in for one another, and have both been named MAAC All-Academic team players. K.C. Ndefo’s defensive strength has had him crowned MAAC Defensive Player of the Year for three years in a row. Clarence Rupert has started since the MAAC tournament and has proved he is worthy of that spot. In the past two seasons, Matthew Lee has started 48 games and been a huge impact player for the Peacocks. Doug Edert, guard for St. Peter’s, has won more than just games; his mustache and confidence sealed him a deal with Buffalo Wild Wings this month. He is a highly skilled offensive player; he is ranked 20th in the nation in offensive rating. The players and team inspired people across the country, including sophomore Jesse Bodian who said they inspired her to “never give up on [her] dreams and to remember that anything is possible.” 

Nembach echoed this sentiment: “This team inspired me to never give up and to give it everything you have left until the end.”

The Peacock’s run might have ended, but their “Cinderella Story” is one of the best to ever be written.