Saint Peter’s Peacocks are champions even if they are not Cinderella 

Saint Peter’s University’s basketball team had one winning season in its past eight, practiced in facilities that look nothing like the home of champions, and were unlikely to ever meet the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball program, a team that won seven national titles, including six National Collegiate Athletic Association championships, and participated in a record twenty-one Final Fours.

But coming off historic victories over #2 Kentucky, #7 Murray State and #3 Purdue in the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the 15th-seeded Peacocks lost to the Tar Heels Sunday inside the Wells Fargo Center.

“The Peacocks fairytale run has ended,” according to a story in the New York Post, but that is not true.

A single one-sided, 69-49 Elite Eight loss on Sunday—to No. 8 North Carolina no less— does not make losers of a team that took on giants and held its own.

None of these kids are 25 years old. The oldest among them are 23 and they have their entire lives ahead of them. If they understand what they did during the last two weeks, they are going to walk through life with their heads held high.

They played well, they played hard and they will both meet and defeat more challenges in the future, these kids are playing to win.

It sucks to lose but life is full of victories and defeats. These young men acquitted themselves with dignity and grace, although those 15 young men are certainly heartbroken.

North Carolina’s Tar Heels are the only team to have reached at least one Final Four for nine straight decades (no other school has done it in more than seven) and at least two Final Fours for six straight decades, all while averaging more wins per season played (20.7) than any other program in college basketball. They were going to be hard to beat.

But the Saint Peter’s Peacocks made history as the lowest-seeded team ever to reach the Elite Eight round in the modern 64-team NCAA tournament era.

After nearly a month between games from December 18 to January 14, due to a Covid-19 outbreak on campus, Saint Peter’s had gone 18-5 in the 2022 calendar year to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title.

A run that will go down in history as one of the greatest by an underdog in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship has come to a close, as the Saint Peter’s University men’s basketball team fell to North Carolina, 69-49, in the Elite Eight on Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Peacocks, who became the first No. 15 seed in the history of March Madness to advance to the Elite Eight, finish the season with a 22-12 overall record while becoming the only Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) school in the history of the conference to advance to the Elite Eight.

The Elite Eight is the halfway mark of the men’s tournament since each qualifying team must win three games to reach the national quarterfinals, with three remaining to reach and win the national championship.

Junior Fousseyni Drame and senior KC Ndefo finished the contest in double figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively, but it wasn’t enough against Carolina squad that shot over 40 percent on the day to snap SPU’s nation-best 10-game winning streak.

The 2021-22 season will go down as arguably the most successful in the long and storied history of the program; Saint Peter’s eclipsed the 20-win threshold for the first time since winning the Postseason Tournament (CIT) in 2017 and earned the program’s fourth-ever MAAC tournament title and first since 2011. 

The best defensive player in program history, Ndefo wrapped up another sensational season with six blocked shots to break his own single-season school record for blocks, as he finished the year with 96 to best his total of 91 one season ago. In four seasons in Jersey City, Ndefo has racked up a program-best 310 career blocks, the second-most among active players in the NCAA.

For their strong efforts throughout the tournament, juniors Daryl Banks iII and Doug Edert earned spots on the East Region All-Tournament team.

Saint Peter’s may not have beaten North Carolina, but its Cinderella run to was a story to tell for a lifetime: One of a small Jersey City school that beat the odds – and the oddsmakers – on the way to college basketball immortality.

One defeat cannot chill three weeks of being on fire in New Jersey.

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