Sweet 16 recap: Saint Peter’s Magical Run Continues/UNC Overpowers UCLA

PHILADELPHIA– As far as Saint Peter’s is concerned, the clock has not struck midnight yet for Cinderella.

The slipper still fits, and it’s going to fit for two more days.

A crowd that had a large Saint Peter’s contingent as well as large UNC and UCLA fan showings to go along with the the neutral college basketball fans from Philadelphia (And we know Philadelphia loves its underdog stories), turned into “Run Baby Run Arena” south for the Peacocks.

So much so that Purdue forward Trevion Williams insinuated that they had a “home whistle.”

“Obviously being away — they’re right — not far from here, so they got a lot of calls their way.” Williams said. “But you’ve just got to be 10 points better. There’s a lot of things we could have done differently to kind of prevent that. Like I said, I just wish we would have came in and jumped right on them from the jump.”

Is that the reason Purdue lost 67-64? No. A lot of things went into this upset.

Let’s look at their star guard and projected Top 5 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft Jaden Ivey.

Ivey shot 4-12 and 1-6 from three-point land scoring only nine points. Not ideal for your best player to be doing that.

Then we look at their 7-foot-4 monster Zach Edey. This guy is a specimen and going against a team whose tallest player that plays significant minutes is 6-foot-7.

So he should be eating on the glass and just dunking over everyone, right?

Nope. While he did have 11 points, he accounted for only two rebounds.

Two rebounds, at 7-foot-4.

I’m 5-foot-11, I could probably luck into two rebounds in a 40-minute game.

“We wanted to get him deeper.” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. “They did a good job of getting him out a couple times and really fighting to their credit. And once he’s not as deep, he has to be careful on his dribble. So I thought he made a couple good simple passes there, but then he obviously struggled kind of passing and catching, kind of collected himself. He’s a very unique player, but he’s got to stay fundamentally sound in his moves and what he does and how he passes, and they bothered him.”

But this isn’t about what Purdue did wrong, this is about what Saint Peter’s did right.

Peacocks Head Coach Shaheen Holloway runs some real legit offensive sets, and when you can’t recruit the uber athletes and the massive 7-footers in the MAAC, you have to rely on your sets, and boy does he have some really good ones.

And it certainly helps to have >75 percent of an NBA arena help you.

First of all, my phone, I had to turn it off.” Holloway said. “Everybody wanted tickets. I can’t get tickets for everybody. I’ll tell you what, man, I can’t believe the support that we’re having. This is unbelievable. Jersey City has been unbelievable for us. But I want to give a shout-out to our student-athletes and the whole student body. They’re taking buses down here, they’re doing videos, watch party. It’s been tremendous. I’m happy for the school and the community and everybody involved. It’s been great.”

Saint Peter’s has quickly become the biggest sports story in the country, and it’s about to get even bigger considering they are the highest seed in the NCAA Tournament to make an Elite 8.

“The whole environment, it was just unreal.” Saint Peter’s mustached guard Doug Edert said. “I don’t think any of us were nervous or really cared about how many people were there watching us. We just went out there and did our thing. We’ve been doing what we’ve been doing all season, which was defending and playing as hard as we possibly can. And then the emotions at the end, again, we’re making history and we look forward to making more history.”

Once the final horn sounded, Edert hopped onto a table, embracing the crowd, and I couldn’t help but think that he looked like a guard that took this city over 25 years ago, who hopped onto a table himself in this very same building: Allen Iverson.

“I found a little opening and started moving stuff, so I don’t know, I was so excited. Just next question.” Edert said.

Holloway asked: You hopped on the table?” And proceeded to give Edert a “Whatchu talking about Willis” staredown at the dais.

Saint Peter’s doesn’t have a star. They don’t have a go-to guy, they have an ostentation of contributors (Ostentation = the term for a group of Peacocks), they’re a likable and humble bunch of kids that absolutely love to play for their coach. A true TEAM.

“You know, that’s what we’ve been the whole year. That’s who we are.” Holloway said. “We’re not a team that’s going to blow teams out. That’s not our DNA. We try to keep it close and try to make them make mistakes down the stretch. Once again, like I said — first of all let me say, Coach Painter is a great coach, great program. They do an unbelievable job. But when you’re playing against teams like that who’s supposed to win, when you keep it tight, certain things can happen. I told my guys just keep battling, keep battling, let’s see what happens. We kept battling, I knew the ball was going to bounce our way, and it did.”

They don’t have the guy that will give you 20 a game, they don’t have any NBA draft picks on their team. Just a bunch of scrappy DUDES from New Jersey and New York. This is why America loves them. They’re not supposed to be here. They never were supposed to be here.

But they are, and they’re here to stay.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

North Carolina guard Caleb Love had a rough first half of their Sweet 16 game against UCLA.

He shot an ugly 1-8 from the floor and 1-4 from three, and was doing more to hurt his team than help his team.

Halftime rolled around and Love was trying to get out of his funk, something needed to be done. Director of Basketball Operation Eric Hoots told him it was time to change out of his black shoes, and start wearing the Carolina Blue ones.

Wouldn’t you know, Love exploded for 27 points in the second half on 10-16 shooting and 5-9 from beyond the arc.

Like Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon says in a famous Tar Heel’s alum commercial: “It’s gotta be the shoes!”

So was it really the shoes?

“I don’t think it was the shoes.” UNC Head coach Hubert Davis said. “I just think that Caleb played really well. One of the things that I said is that — in any game, but specifically in big-time games like this, it has nothing to do with coaching, it’s about players just stepping up and making plays. Everybody that played made plays, and Caleb made a lot, especially in the second half.”

“Hoops told me to change them because I never play good in the black shoes, so he told me to change them, and it worked out.” Love said.

“I’m going to give him a raise. So just let Hoops know. I didn’t even know he switched shoes.” Davis added.

Love was going unconscious in the second half, he looked like a legitimate pro out there and it even got the attention of some high-profile NBA players on Twitter such as Trae Young.

“Never lose my confidence level. Coach Davis and my teammates always tell me that.” Love said. “I feel like that’s the best part of my game is not to lose my confidence level. And when I’m out there, I’m just in a mode, and that’s what that was tonight.”

“We found match-ups that we felt like we could get good shots from.” Davis said. Caleb, because of his size and his athleticism, he’s the one guy, probably the best on the wing, that can create his own shot at any given time. The area that I thought he was really good tonight, and he talked about it, he started inside out. And at times where he gets trouble is when he starts outside in or outside, outside, outside. And he went inside in, and I just feel like he has the ability to attack the basket and he was able to get to the rim. And I’ve always felt that way — even for me, I wasn’t as quick and as athletic, but I always wanted to get a couple lay-ups, then you feel better stepping out and shooting that jump shot.”

North Carolina just looks like a totally different team since mid-January where they dropped back-to-back games against Miami and Wake Forest. The Heels have been 15-3 since then.

“That was a long time ago. I apologize. I’m serious.” Davis said. “We won now 15 out of the last 18 games? That Wake Forest game was in January. As I told you before — and I apologize, I’m a positive guy. I’m a positive guy. These guys have won, what is it, nine out of the last ten, 15 out of the last 18, and we’re going to talk about a game in January?”

“Our confidence never wavered.” North Carolina big man Armando Bacot said. “We knew even back then that we were this good of a team, and we knew if we played at a high level and just really bought into everything, we knew we could make it this far. Coach Davis and all the coaches even when we struggled always told us that. We never thought at one point we were a bad team.”

And they’ve done it with high powered offense and a quick pace, making for some entertaining hoops.

But the defensive end tonight stole the show.

UCLA runs a high powered offense, just like the Tar Heels, albeit at a much, much slower pace, but North Carolina neutralized it and only gave up 66 points against a good UCLA team.

“Just played our principles.” UNC guard Leaky Black said. “Coach Davis has a game plan on the defensive end, and we just had to follow it. First half they were hitting some tough shots. We were there, and they just eventually in the second half started missing them. I mean, that was pretty much it.”

North Carolina’s win tonight ties them with Kentucky for the most NCAA Tournament wins with 129.

They’ll be looking to make it 130 on Sunday evening, against America’s sweetheart, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks in what will be the ultimate David vs. Goliath matchup.

The Blue Blood program that has produced countless NBA stars including the greatest of all-time, with a massive budget, Jordan brand everything, and even their own color, going up against a tiny school in North Jersey that plays in a glorified High School gym.

It should make for another day of great hoops in Philadelphia.

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