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Mike Lopresti | NCAA.com | March 18, 2022

Saint Peter's 'looking to get more' after improbable upset over Kentucky

Watch the final 2:30 of No. 15 Saint Peter's OT win over No. 2 Kentucky

INDIANAPOLIS — This was not March Madness. That’s too gentle a phrase. This was March gone all the way off the rails.

Here was Kentucky, playing in its 60th NCAA tournament, in pursuit of its 130th win. A No. 2 seed that graced the national champion’s line on millions of brackets.

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Here was No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s. Well, actually a good part of the nation was asking Thursday night: Where is Saint Peter's?

“A lot of people probably don’t even know who we are,” Daryl Banks III would say later, having helped destroy Kentucky’s March plans with 27 points. The answer is Jersey City, New Jersey, by the way, not far from the bright lights of New York City but a million miles from the bright lights of college basketball.

Not anymore.

We have our Cinderella for 2022. One of them anyway. The 85-79 overtime loss the Peacocks hung on mighty Kentucky rattled the first full day of the NCAA tournament like none other. They came in with 11 losses, and a roster of players the big fish didn’t want. None of that mattered down the stretch of Gainbridge Fieldhouse, filled mostly by people in blue who were growing more and more anxious as the night went on and the score didn’t widen.

“It’s not about your record. It’s not about what school you’re at,” coach Shaheen Holloway said. “It’s whoever is good on that night, and tonight, it was our night.”

How shaken were the beaten Wildcats?

“I’ll just say one thing, and I’m a guy that’s been through a lot of these, you have an eight-point lead with three minutes to go, you win the game,” John Calipari said.

Except, Kentucky didn’t have an eight-point lead with three minutes to go. Never had one. The Wildcats could never get more than six points in front, leaving the door ajar that the Peacocks eventually kicked in. Between Banks fearlessly hitting shot after shot, and Doug Edert burying two crucial late 3-pointers and then tying the game in regulation with a driving layup with 23 seconds, and Saint Peter’s calmly making 18 of 21 free throws and staying even on the boards even with Tshiebwe’s big numbers  . . . all that was too much for Kentucky to handle.

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In the end, not even aura could save the Wildcats.

There were hints of such an uprising the day before when the Peacocks openly spoke of their motivation.

This is what Edert said: “We all got a chip on our shoulder. We all have something to prove. I feel like tomorrow is a great chance and a great opportunity to do it.”

And Hassan Drame: “We don’t see the name on the jersey. All we see is a player in front of us just like us.”

And Holloway, whose layup for Seton Hall in overtime in 2000 beat Oregon in the NCAA tournament and pushed the Pirates toward the Sweet 16: “I recruit guys like that, that have a chip on their shoulder with something to prove. A lot of guys on my team think they are supposed to be playing against Kentucky, so now they get a chance to play against them.”

So that was one factor at work Thursday night; a pack of under-recruited athletes who did not want to let the chance get by to show they could have been in a big-name place.

“No disrespect to anybody,” Holloway said, “but we wasn’t coming down here to lose.”

That included Banks, whose shooting vanished in the last two games  of the MAAC tournament, when he went 3-for-13. Holloway had seen Banks the previous two days in the gym doing extra work on his shooting and figured he might have a big night coming. And he is not one to take away a player’s aggressiveness to score.

“We got good players. I know this is getting old, it's a cliché, but we have guys that really have a chip on their shoulder; that really believe they belong at big-time schools,” Holloway said, “And I give the guys freedom to play offense. As long as they do what they have got to do for me on defense, on offense, they have their freedom.”

So Saint Peter’s was loose, and confident, and dangerous. Not even Kentucky throngs would bother the Peacocks. “We had our little section, too,” Edert said. “I don’t know if anybody saw that, but we did.”

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Meanwhile, as the game went on and it was clear Saint Peter’s was not going away, Kentucky’s body language began to suggest a team feeling the pressure. The Wildcats came with no chips on the shoulders, but rather the expectation they’d take the first step toward a long March run.

But something had happened to this team down the stretch. The execution began to sag, especially away from Rupp Arena. Kentucky had dropped three of its last five on the road or in neutral settings.

Calipari sensed a team not entirely comfortable with the task at hand, especially late Thursday.

“My whole thing coming in — I knew they had never played in this stuff — was to get them free and loose, and we never got to that. Never. And you know, even in time-outs, I was trying to do that,” he said. “I may have been trying to coach a team that I coached a month ago. And we had some guys that weren't playing like they were a month ago.

“It was the whole game. It wasn't just then. I took guys out because they wouldn't shoot the ball. I did that about three times.”

“You know, some things happened. Like they said, we are a good defensive team. We weren't — and let's give them credit. (Saint Peter’s) back-doored us to death and beat us on the bounce, and made 3s coming off screens, and they played well.”

And in the end, the team expected to go so far had no answers.

“But again,” Calipari said of his players, “this was probably something they never felt in their lives.”

The same could be said of the Saint Peter’s Peacocks. They won in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history and were the 10th No. 15 seed in history to bushwhack a No. 2 — so did they lose that chip on the their shoulders?

Vowed Edert, “We are looking to get more.”

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