Shake, rattle, and roll.
The process by which St. Peter’s of Jersey City gained the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s NCAA Tournament berth produced a terrific Atlantic City warmup to the Big Dance.
It had the upset shuffle, with No. 9 seed Rider College knocking off No. 1 Iona 71-70 in the quarterfinals on a score with 7.5 seconds left.
It had the Jersey jump, in which three Garden State teams (Rider, Monmouth, and St. Peter’s) reached the semifinals for the first time in tournament history.
And finally, it featured the chalk walk, as No. 2 seed St. Peter’s cashed in on the upset of heavily-favored Iona by defeating No. 4 Monmouth, 60-54, to enter the Big Dance.
St. Peter’s earned the right to play Kentucky as a 17-point underdog on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. The Peacocks are a No. 15 seed going against a No. 2 in the East bracket and few expect their party to continue beyond then.
But it was still a memorable ride, and an exciting tournament at Boardwalk Hall.
St. Peter’s Heads To NCAA Tournament
Two perspectives emerged for the tournament winners.
Peacock fans may want to enjoy this while it lasts. The team has never won an NCAA Tournament game.
It got blown out by Texas in 1991, UMass in 1995, and Purdue in 2011. Its tournament theme resembles a game-show appearance: you didn’t win, thanks for coming, here are your door prizes.
Despite regular-season success and conference championships in years they reached the Big Dance, St. Peter’s has not been able to make an impact at the tournament.
Wait a minute. This is the Peacocks’ first NCAA appearance in 11 years. Enjoy it and be happy about what set it up. Reaching this destination is an accomplishment.
Major powers like Kentucky, Gonzaga, Villanova, and Kansas appear in the championship tournament every year. They always expect to go. Their invitation is embossed before the schedule comes out.
Other New Jersey teams have at least a mild expectation of March Madness achievement. Rutgers won one game in the 2021 championship and nearly went to the Sweet 16 last year.
The Knights are back in the tournament, playing Notre Dame in a First Four play-in game, set for Wednesday at 9:10 p.m. They are in the West bracket.
Seton Hall occasionally makes some tournament noise and once came within a bucket of winning the National Championship. The Pirates lost to Michigan 80-79 in overtime in the 1989 national finals. Even though they’ve never reached that level since, the Pirates expect to reach the tournament every season.
And they did again this year, qualifying as a No. 8 seed in the South bracket. The Pirates will play No. 9 TCU in the opening round on Friday.
For St. Peter’s, just getting in was the finest hour of the last decade. The Big Dance is bonus time, baby.
Analyzing MAAC Tournament Results
For those who could gamble on this tournament, Iona was the chalk at +143 at DraftKings Sportsbook coming in. That’s only a reference point to New Jersey residents, who can’t wager on Garden State teams, nor in NJ venues. Even if that venue, Boardwalk Hall, sits in the heart of a national gambling capital.
Monmouth, seeded fourth, was +700 at DraftKings. St. Peter’s, the second seed, was +300.
Rider’s upset paves way
The Broncos won’t go to the Big Dance, but they set up the equipment.
Rider opened the tournament with a 79-68 triumph over Manhattan. Nice, but it was a No. 9 seed beating the No. 8.
And then they changed the direction of the tournament. They toppled a team with a link to a National Championship.
Rider, 13-18, beat the Iona club led by a man who knows everything about the NCAA championship. He won one, right in the Garden State.
Rick Pitino, the former New York Knicks head coach, had reached a college basketball pinnacle by guiding Kentucky to a 1996 national title at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford.
But he was tripped up in New Jersey on the way to the Big Dance this year.
Iona had won the conference with a 25-6 record and enjoyed the No. 1 seed with good reason. But Pitino wasn’t fooled.
When it was over, Pitino said his club had not let down against Rider. He thought it was an excellent contest, proving that Iona had captured the conference only by winning many close games.
Pitino indicated the conference had parity. And that parity became a benefit for St. Peter’s.
The Peacocks received a dream trip into the final.
Even though New Jersey residents couldn’t gamble on the MAAC, the Peacocks’ roll can be viewed in the parlance of craps.
St. Peter’s Wins MAAC
It started with a “Come Out 7.”
St. Peter’s opened with a 77-63 victory over No.7 Fairfield, which it had beaten four days earlier in the regular-season finale.
The next piece of good news was the departure of No. 1 seeded Iona, complements of Rider.
And more soon followed like a “Yo 11.” Quinnipiac, the 11th seed, knocked out No. 3 Siena.
St. Peter’s then defeated Quinnipiac 64-52 to reach the finals.
Next was the “Hard 4“ with fourth-seeded Monmouth, which had nudged a stubborn Rider 72-68 in the semis. It was a tough out and trailed by only a bucket with under a minute remaining.
But St. Peter’s had enough to defeat Monmouth for the third time this season and to convert the losses by Iona and Siena into a tournament triumph.
The Peacocks showed something they hope to replicate on the bigger stage. Ranking among the national leaders in field goal percentage defense, St. Peter’s held Quinnipiac to 33% from the field and Monmouth to 24% in its last two games.
That was especially significant in the low-scoring finale.
St. Peter’s utilized 20 points off the bench from Doug Edert, including a key 3-pointer in the final minute, to put the game away.
The Saint Peter’s bench outscored the starters 15-14 in the first half and 31-29 for the game. No starter scored in double figures.
Now, the Peacocks take a giant leap.
Yes, history suggests they will be outgunned early in the tournament. But for one weekend, it was delirium.
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)