INDIANAPOLIS – Saint Peter’s has already written NCAA tournament history with its bracket-busting victory over the Kentucky Thursday powerhouse.
Now Peacocks can enter the realm of the immortals on Saturday and secure a place in the pantheon occupied by the greatest underdogs ever to take the court in March Madness.
Only twice has a 15th seed reached Sweet 16, with Florida Gulf Coast 2013 and Oral Roberts last year the highest seedings ever to win two games at Big Dance.
Saint Peter’s can join that elite group if it can win its ninth straight game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Saturday night (19:45). But only if it can quickly regroup after an emotional victory.
In their way stands a Murray State team that wants to make its own claim on Cinderella, where the seventh-seeded Racers have won 21 straight games, including an overtime victory in the first round over San Francisco.
St. Peter’s guard Matthew Lee (15) drives past Kentucky guard TyTy Washington Jr., right, during the first half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo / Darron Cummings)
But the confidence that Saint Peter’s played with when he sent Kentucky overtime was eye-opening, as if it were a MAAC match in February, not the biggest scene in college sports.
More: How a brutal MAAC campaign prepared Saint Peter’s to shock the world
Shaheen Holloway:When he beats Kentucky, Seton Hall AD, who hired him, is “tired”
The documents are plentiful.
Shaheen Holloway, in his fourth season at Saint Peter’s, is a hot commodity, with his stock rising in college basketball.
And Saint Peter’s fits in pretty well with the David vs Goliath story, with fewer students and a smaller sports budget than anyone else in the field.
Related: Saint Peter’s Basketball: Joe Whalen’s emotional link to the NCAA Tournament journey
Here are five key points for Saint Peter’s against Murray State:
1. Check the tempo
Maybe it’s not exactly the same pace that Saint Peter’s wanted to play against Kentucky, but it was not a pitch meeting either. And controlling the pace will be just as important against Murray State, one of the country’s best fast teams.
Saint Peter’s Uprising Kentucky:Where does it rank on the NCAA Tournament Shock List?
Like Kentucky, Racers are among the highest scoring teams in the nation, averaging just under 80 points per game. The fight between Saint Peter’s junior point guard Matthew Lee and Murray State sophomore Justice Hill will be good.
2. Includes KJ Williams
Murray States 6-10 forward KJ Williams has nine doubles this season and comes after an 18-point, seven rebounds against San Francisco. While Saint Peter’s had no answer for Kentucky’s candidate Oscar Tshiebwe, who scored 30 points and took 16 rebounds, it will be crucial to limit the damage that Williams inflicts.
That job will fall to triple MAAC Defensive Player of the Year KC Ndefo, who scored two fouls in the first 91 seconds against Kentucky and was limited to seven points and four rebounds.
3. Beat the glass
Saint Peter’s did not win the return battle against the bigger Wildcats, but it was terribly close, with Kentucky having a narrow 36-35 edge on boards. And that says something given the fact that Ndefo and forward Fousseyni Drami were in the wrong trouble early on.
Murray State is very good under the basket and takes 39 rebounds per game, which is 22nd nationally. Saint Peter has to hit the glass hard. Against Kentucky, Hassan Drame took eight boards, while 6-8 forward Clarence Rupert, a newcomer from Philadelphia, noted some important minutes, scored six points and took four rebounds.
Saint Peter’s defensive intensity, both on the perimeter and under the basket, surprised Kentucky, you could see it. When the Wildcats had the ball outside, three-pointers competed, and nothing was given inside.
That in-your-face defense is their business card, ranked among the national leaders in field goal defense and three-point defense.
5. Embrace the moment
Given what we saw in the opening game, when Saint Peter’s seemed to belong from the opening tips and played his basketball style all the time, there is no reason to believe that it will not happen again.
Saint Peter’s do not back down and they are not intimidated by anyone, as the players take on Holloway’s persona.
And why should the Peacocks not be confident, having won eight straight and nine of their last 10 games.