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St. Peter hits for pot of gold on St. Patrick’s Day, defeating heavily favored Kentucky in NCAA basketball tournament

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Doug Edert of St. Peter's University shoots against the University of Kentucky at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis March 17, 2022. The small 15th-seeded Jesuit school in New Jersey defeated second-seeded Kentucky 85-79 in overtime during "March Madness," the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. (CNS photo/Zach Bolinger, Icon Sportswire via St. Peter's University)

WASHINGTON — St. Peter gained the upper hand on St. Patrick’s Day when the underdog team of the small Jesuit school, Saint Peter’s University of Jersey City, N.J., upset the mighty University of Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Peacocks’ 85-79 win over No. 2-seeded Wildcats in overtime March 17 was one for record books since the New Jersey team went into the tournament at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis as the No. 15 seed in the East Regional.

The Peacocks also had never won a game in this tournament before and were up against a team that had won the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship eight times.

“Peacocks Win!” was on university website’s homepage, and soon after the team’s victory, so many people were on the school’s site that it crashed.

On the team’s Instagram account just prior to the game, someone from the school said the Peacocks “might have the luck of the Irish on their side tonight.”

That luck and talent was celebrated at a watch party on campus for the school of about 3,000 students across the Hudson River from New York City.

“It’s huge,” said Daryl Banks III, who scored 27 points for Saint Peter’s. “We’re putting Jersey City on the map,” he told ESPN, noting the team is from a small school and “probably a lot of people don’t even know who we are.”

But they know now, especially since the team has messed with many basketball fans’ bracket picks to win the tournament.

One person’s picks that weren’t changed by the upset were those of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy who tweeted his bracket picks, with Saint Peter’s to win, after the victory and said: “NEVER A DOUBT.”

The win also put all eyes on the team’s coach, Shaheen Holloway, a former coach and player at Seton Hall University, a Catholic university in South Orange, New Jersey, who was matched up against Kentucky’s legendary coach, John Calipari.

When asked by a reporter after the game what the March Madness tournament means to him, Holloway said: “You just have to be good on this night,” adding that it’s not about the team record or the school. “It’s whoever is good on that night and tonight it was our night.”

The Peacocks now advance to the next round, facing another Kentucky team, Murray State, March 19.

Murray State beat another Jesuit school’s team, the University of San Francisco, in overtime March 17. That same night, yet another Jesuit school, Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, won in overtime against San Diego State University.

Other Jesuit college teams that made it to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are top-ranked Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, which defeated Georgia State March 17; Marquette University in Milwaukee, which lost to the University of North Carolina March 17; and Loyola University Chicago, which lost to Ohio State March 18.

At Loyola’s matchup in Pittsburgh, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 102-year-old team chaplain, who is a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was cheering, and praying, the team on.

When asked by USA Today if she had any hesitations about praying for a basketball game when there are so many troubles in the world, she said she prays for those situations too, referring to the war in Ukraine.

“God hears all prayers,” she said, adding: “I don’t have any problem praying for the team. If it’s God’s will, it’ll happen.”

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim