Overtime: St. Peter’s Epitomize the Beauty of March Madness


St. Peter’s run in the March Madness Tournament continues to surprise fans. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Even as someone from New Jersey, the existence of tiny St. Peter’s University only scratched the back recesses of my brain before this week. Located in Jersey City, St. Peter’s boasts just 2,672 undergraduate students and a 30 acre campus. 

The St. Peter’s Peacocks earned an NCAA Tournament bid on March 12 after defeating Monmouth University in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament championship. For a school like St. Peter’s, winning their conference tournament and advancing to just their third ever NCAA Tournament was an immense achievement. 

When the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament was set on March 13, the Peacocks were handed a #15 seed and a first round matchup against the #2 seeded and perennial powerhouse Kentucky. Kentucky, home to over 22,000 undergraduate students, has the most successful Division 1 basketball program in history in terms of wins (2,327) and winning percentage (.765). They have won eight national championships to go along with 17 final four appearances. In many ways, they are the gold standard for success in college basketball.

Despite the differences in program size and history, there are no certainties in college basketball. A game still has to be played. On Thursday, St. Peter’s stunned the Kentucky Wildcats with an 85-79 overtime victory at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Led by 27 points from Daryl Banks and 20 from Doug Edert, the Peacocks shot an impressive 50.9% from the field and 52.9% from three-point range. St. Peter’s hung with Kentucky all game, eventually forcing overtime where they pulled away from the Wildcats once and for all.

The craziness of this upset goes far beyond each school’s basketball heritage. Kentucky was an 18-point favorite coming into Thursday’s game. From a point spread perspective, this was the fifth largest upset in NCAA tournament history. 

When looking at things from a financial perspective, the massive gulf between these programs becomes even more apparent. In the most recent season unaffected by COVID-19 (2019-20), Kentucky spent $18.3 million on their men’s basketball program, while St. Peter’s spent just $1.6 million. In terms of budget disparity between programs, this is the largest upset in NCAA history, ahead of Lehigh University’s 2012 victory over Duke. 

Even without the extra resources, the top tier recruits and the storied history, St. Peter’s pulled off the seemingly impossible on Thursday. What is, perhaps, even more impressive, was their ability to keep the magic flowing in the second round on Saturday against Murray State University. This time, led in scoring (17) and rebounds (10) by KC Ndefo, the Peacocks rolled over the Racers 70-60 to earn a berth in the Sweet 16.

A date with #3 seed Purdue University awaits St. Peter’s on Friday night in what could possibly be their toughest test so far. Purdue eased past Yale in the first round and the University of Texas in the second behind the explosive Jaden Ivey and the dominant Trevion Williams, who has established himself as one of college basketball’s elite big men.

Again, even though the odds seem stacked against them, it would be foolish to count out the Peacocks. The 12.5 point underdogs have faced greater odds in the last week. This team truly has the heart and resilience of a group that’s not scared of anyone. They may come up short on Friday, but St. Peter’s has already exemplified what makes March Madness so special.