PHILADELPHIA (AP) — True story, Peacocks can fly. Just not all the way to the Final Four.
Saint Peter’s joyous, bracket-busting, can-they-top-this ride through the NCAA Tournament ended with a dud in a 69-49 East Region final loss to North Carolina on Sunday.
Peacocks fans — large in numbers and loud again in Philly — rallied behind America’s new favorite team even as the score steamrolled out of control.
“You beat Kentucky! You beat Purdue! You can beat these guys, too,” one man yelled.
Not these Tar Heels.
The Peacocks, so proud and poised as they became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight, were discombobulated from the opening tip. The Tar Heels opened on a 7-0 run and Peacocks coach Shaheen Holloway called a quick timeout. Daryl Banks III — who two nights earlier scored the winning bucket against Purdue — failed to finish an easy alley-oop. Doug Edert missed a long 3 in front of the Carolina bench.
Who were these guys?
Saint Peter’s missed 16 of its first 20 shots and 6 of 7 3s and never led.
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.
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