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Saint Peter's and ties to '68

Years ago a syndicated columnist described Saint Peter’s campus as ‘what you see is what you get.’ The words of Star Ledger (NJ) columnist emeritus Jerry Izenberg, still resonate today. Before a pedestrian overhead walkway, with Saint Peter’s University emblazoned on it, was erected to join the two sides of Kennedy Boulevard it would be easy to pass the school. Kennedy Boulevard is always busy and if you did not know your way around Jersey City, one could miss the school by simply focusing on the realities and uncertainties of navigating the Boulevard traffic.

Now Saint Peter’s is not only easier to locate but in the space of little more than a week is familiar to more than its local neighbors., The country is now dialed into this story. A story making Madness so captivating and special.

On St. Patrick's Day Saint Peter’s defeated Kentucky in overtime. A shock that shredded many a bracket. The next morning the back page of the NY Post exclaimed’ St. Peter’s Day’. The stunning upset instantly brought thoughts from 54 years ago.

In 1968 Saint Peter’s played in the 16 team NIT. Back then the entire NIT was contested at Madison Square Garden. The Peacocks’ first round opponent was Marshall. Saint Peter’s under the tutelage of Don Kennedy upset the Thundering Herd, 102-93 in double overtime. Elnardo Webster led the way with 51 points. Next was tenth ranked Duke. Back then if you did not win your conference there was no NCAA bid. Duke seemed to have it all over the Peacocks. Duke coach Vic Bubas even remarked, "I always thought St.Peter’s was a church." From the onset it was all Saint Peter’s. A sellout crowd of 19,500 saw Saint Peter’s rout the Blue Devils of the ACC 100-79. In the NIT semis Jo Jo White and Kansas were too much for Saint Peter’s to handle. The Peacocks finished the season with a consolation loss to Notre Dame.

In that NIT run Saint Peter’s captivated the city. Local theaters showed the Duke game for fans who could not secure tickets to the Garden. ‘Run baby run’, their slogan for a relentless fast break that saw Saint Peters, finishing at 24-4, average 94 points per game (no three point arc thank you) was written on the blackboard prior to the Duke game. It became the signature slogan for Kennedy’s Saint Peter’s team and now is the name of the arena the present day Peacocks call home.

A little over a week back Shaheen Holloway’s group defeated Murray State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Three days later Webster tragically passed away. Members from that ‘68 team were proudly following their alma mater while reflecting on the memory of their late teammate.

Saint Peter’s was on to Philadelphia to face Purdue of the Big Ten. Once again they prevailed in a 67-64 thriller that saw a last second desperation heave by the Boilermakers rim and fall away. The first 15th seed to reach the Elite Eight, Saint Peter’s was not just the talk of Jersey City and the New York Metropolitan area but the nation as well.

The names from ‘68- Webster, Laurie, Leckie, O’Dea, Mac Mahon, Grant, De Piano, O’Connell have given way to the present day group of Lee, Banks, Edert, Ndefo, Rupert, the Drames and Murray.

Back then with gas barely a quarter a gallon, Saint Peter’s played in the Armory on Montgomery Avenue. They moved on campus in 1974 into Yanitelli Center. Over the decades Yanitelli aged. After signing on at St. Peter’s Holloway reached out to Mac Mahon, now a successful businessman, about refurbishing Yanitelli. Mac Mahon jump started a campaign by donating $5 million dollars. In Fall of 2021, Run Baby Arena was christened with many from the ‘68 team in attendance.

The hallways of Run Baby Run are adorned with pictures and bios of the ‘68 team. A fitting shrine to a group whose exploits are not to be forgotten.

Today’s Peacocks have carved out their own place in history. As the East Regional final approaches , they are not finished. Saint peter’s vs. North Carolina with a trip to New Orleans and the Final Four on the line. Could you have believed such a line possible on Selection Sunday?

Well, the current group calling the Boulevard and Montgomery home, could. They never doubted, just believed. In the process they are giving us all a great and inspiring story. They are not done yet….

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