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Saint Peter’s is in the Sweet 16: Another Catholic Cinderella story

Saint Peter's Peacocks


Zelda Caldwell - published on 03/22/22

“This is where being part of a Jesuit school is really helpful because all of the Jesuits were praying for us,” said the Eugene Cornacchia, the New Jersey university's president.

Saint Peter’s University is this year’s March Madness Cinderella story, the latest small Catholic school to upset the NCAA apple cart.

When the heavily favored University of Kentucky Wildcats faced off against the St. Peter’s University Peacocks in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, it’s fair to say that most people watching hadn’t heard of the small Jesuit school in Jersey City, New Jersey.

After the 15-seeded Peacocks’ knocked off the No. 2-seeded Wildcats in a 85-79 win in overtime, all of that changed.  

Suddenly the Saint Peter’s was trending, leaving millions of broken brackets in its wake, as everyone wanted to know the same thing: Where did this Saint Peter’s University team come from?

Two days later, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks vaulted into the Sweet 16 with a 70-60 victory over Murray State. They are only the third No. 15 seed to advance that far in the NCAA Tournament since 1985.

The upset against Murray State seemed inevitable somehow, perhaps because it was reminiscent of another small Catholic college’s Cinderellarun in the NCAA tournament. In 2018, 11-seeded Loyola University of Chicago — and their ever-present team chaplain Sister Jean — captured the hearts of the nation on their unlikely Goliath-slaying trip to the Final Four.

Back to the question on everyone’s mind:  What is Saint Peter’s?

Founded by the Society of Jesus in 1972 as Saint Peter’s College, the university today serves just over 2,600 undergraduates and 800 graduate students. Set on 30 acres in Jersey City,  the campus is two miles from New York City. Most of the school’s undergraduates hail from the state of New Jersey (88%). According to U.S. News and World Report, the most popular majors at Saint Peter’s include Biology, Business Administration and Management, Criminal Justice, and Nursing.

Saint Peter’s is one of 27 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. It is the only Jesuit institution of high education in the state of New Jersey.

How did they make it to the NCAA Tournament?

The Saint Peter’s Peacocks (20-11) finished second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but won their conference’s championship tournament to secure an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.  

Known as scrappy and undersized, the squad’s top players are KC Ndefo (MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and the NCAA’s leader in blocked shots), and offensive threats Daryl Banks III and Doug Edert. 

The mustachioed Edert came off the bench to score 27 points off Kentucky, including the lay-up that forced the game into overtime, plus some clutch free throws and a three-pointer to secure the win. The New Jersey native was a legend at Bergen Catholic High School graduate where he scored 1,000 points, and helped the Crusaders make it to their conference tournament as a senior. He’s not a regular starter for Saint Peter’s, and only averaged 8.4 points per game during his three seasons, but he certainly seems to have recaptured some of his high school magic this March.

What about that mustache?

Edert’s distinctive facial hair was a pandemic thing. Apparently he intended to shave it off but then the Peacocks started winning, and who’s to say the mustache didn’t have something to do with it?

“I said, ‘Maybe the mustache is giving me powers,’ ” Edert told The Athletic. “And now it’s everywhere. I never thought this was going to happen, but it’s just hilarious. There’s a lot of memes, a lot of pictures online. I’m rocking with it. I love it. It’s a part of me now.”

A Jesuit victory?

Eugene Cornacchia, named Saint Peter’s first lay president in 2007, was bursting with Peacock pride in an interview with When asked about the experience of watching his team knock off Kentucky, he gave some the credit to prayers of the Jesuits priests at Saint Peter’s.

“Watching the game against Kentucky I was on pins and needles. I thought, ‘This is where being part of a Jesuit school is really helpful because all of the Jesuits were praying for us,’” he said.

“I don’t want to say I was in disbelief, but there was just an overwhelming feeling of pride for our players, for our coach and for the sportsmanship and grit and determination they exhibited. They were fearless,” Cornacchia added.

The Peacocks will face the 3-seeded Purdue Boilermakers on Friday night (7:09 pm ET) for a chance to advance to the Elite Eight.

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