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PHILADELPHIA — It sounded like Jersey City in the City of Brotherly Love.
Cinderella darling Saint Peter’s wrote another chapter in its hard-to-believe tale on Friday night at jammed Wells Fargo Center. The Peacocks closed like seasoned title contenders, not a No. 15 seed with no business being in this position.
Saint Peter’s stunned No. 3 Purdue, 67-64, becoming the lowest seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Elite Eight after finishing on a 15-8 run.
When a 3-point heave by the Boilermakers’ Jaden Ivey was off the mark at the horn, Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway lifted both arms in the air and his entire team sprinted over to press row to salute and celebrate their fans.
Trailing 56-52 with 4:02 to go, Saint Peter’s outscored Purdue by seven the rest of the way. Doug Edert hit three free throws to move Saint Peter’s back within a point, bringing the crowd to a crescendo. That crowd exploded in boos on the ensuing possession, when Saint Peter’s star KC Ndefo was called for his fifth and final foul, sending Purdue’s Trevion Williams to the line, from where he hit one of two free throws.
Daryl Banks III, though, got the Peacocks even at 57 with a turnaround jumper in the lane, and they followed that big basket by forcing a shot clock violation. Banks scored again in the lane, and Hassan Drame added two free throws, extending Saint Peter’s lead to 61-57 with 1:43 to go.
Purdue kept on pushing, but Saint Peter’s kept executing. It hit its final 11 free throws and held Ivey, a projected top-five NBA draft pick, to nine points overall (five in the second half) and forced him into six turnovers.
For a majority of the first half, Saint Peter’s more than held its own. The Peacocks (22-11) created quality shots with its half-court offense, frustrating Purdue (29-8) on the other end of the floor, and received strong offensive performances from unlikely sources. The Boilermakers scored seven of the game’s first nine points, but Saint Peter’s punched right back, in the form of a 9-2 run.
Clarence Rupert scored the Peacocks’ first seven points of the game and had 11 points in the first half, while Jaylen Murray added six off the bench. Ndefo, the team’s star, was held scoreless, but did have four assists.
The close to the half, though, wasn’t pretty for the Peacocks, who scored just four points over the final 5:04. But their defense, this team’s calling card, was strong. It forced nine Purdue turnovers to make up for Saint Peter’s shooting just 38 percent from the field.
A 14-4 Purdue run, after falling behind by four, enabled the Boilermakers to go into halftime up 33-29. Murray did send Saint Peter’s into the break with momentum by scoring at the rim at the buzzer.
It carried over, in the form of an 8-0 spurt to start the second half that gave Saint Peter’s a four-point edge. Purdue went scoreless over the first 5:47 of the second half, unable to generate much offense at all against the Peacocks’ pressure defense.
But the Boilermakers finally were able to work the ball into the paint, and reeled off eight consecutive points, six from Williams, to take a 41-37 lead with just under 12 minutes left.
Saint Peter’s pulled even, at 45-45 with 9:13 left, on Matthew Lee’s 3-pointer. But Purdue pushed the lead back to four on a Zach Edey offensive rebound and follow, responding as it had all evening.