On John F. Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City, N.J., once sat a sleepy little Jesuit college. That was until last Thursday, but now it’s the complete opposite. Saint Peter’s upset second-seeded Kentucky and then beat fellow mid-major Murray State, who compiled 31 wins this season, to become the third 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to make the Sweet 16.
“It’s been actually crazy,” said Jessica Auvil, who plays on the Saint Peter’s women’s soccer team. “I’m not kidding when I say there’s like news reporters and video cameras anywhere you go.”
You might think, “They should be used to this. They’re D-I athletes and live next to one of the biggest cities in the world.” Well, their campus is only 25 acres and feels even smaller.
In 2020, the athletic programs only spent $7.2 million on sports with $1.6 million on men’s basketball. To put that in comparison with Kentucky, the Wildcats spent $138.3 million on athletics. Prior to its renovation, which concluded in 2021, the Peacocks’ home arena was consistently voted one of the worst places in DI basketball to watch a game. It had countless floods and didn’t even have air conditioning until recently.
While the arena was being renovated, Saint Peter’s played last its home games at NJCU, a Division-III school one mile away. The Peacocks now play back on campus at the Run Baby Run Arena, which pays homage to the 1968 team that defeated Duke in NIT.
Not many people outside of the Saint Peter’s campus felt confident in their chances to pull off the upset against Kentucky. It was their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011, but their students still had some faith.
“I knew what the boys put in,” sophomore women’s basketball player Rachel Kuhl said. “I didn’t think they were going to lose the game. It probably took me until about halftime to think, ‘I think they got this in the bag.’”
A lot of campus watched the first game at the student center. The cheerleading and dance teams were at this watch party instead of at the game in Indianapolis. Very little money, remember.
NBC stepped in and saw the mutual name in “Peacock.” Not only is that the Saint Peter’s mascot, but it’s the name of the tv network’s streaming service. With this, NBC rented a bus and took the whole squad on a bus ride to the second-round game against Murray State.
In that game, Saint Peter’s dominated the Racers. Back on campus a bigger crowd attended the watch party, which was moved to the Run Baby Run Arena. Then throughout the week more and more people showed up on campus. The university was now on the map.
“No one knew who we were before,” Auvil said. “Every time I said that I went to school at Saint Peter’s, they would respond ‘what is that.’ Now I don’t have to explain.”
Saint Peter’s will look to continue its Cinderella run tonight with a battle against Purdue in nearby Philadelphia. Expect a lot of Peacock fans there, both new and old. As Shaheen Holloway said, his team is not “scared of anything,” so watch out Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey. They aren’t here just to pick up a check.
“I think they have Purdue in the bag too,” Kuhl said. “All the momentum is on their side at this point. They really have nothing to lose, they just have to put it all out there. If they do that and keep the consistency up, I think they can make it to the Elite Eight.”