By GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Saint Peter’s acted like it had been there before.
After the 15th-seeded Peacocks bounced storied Kentucky from the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night, they calmly exchanged handshakes with the Wildcats before heading over to the opposite sideline to celebrate with a small contingent of true believers.
The tiny Jesuit school from Jersey City, New Jersey, got 27 points from Daryl Banks III as it took down basketball royalty, beating second-seeded Kentucky 85-79 in overtime and sending countless brackets into the digital wastebasket.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Banks said. “You grow up you watching March Madness, the tournament, so to let that sink in — knowing the game was over — it felt really good.”
The Peacocks became the 10th No. 15 seed to win a first-round game since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and handed Kentucky its first opening-round loss under coach John Calipari.
“At the end of the day, every team that made it to the NCAA Tournament deserves to be here. Every team that made it to the NCAA Tournament believes they can advance. It’s about this night,” Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway said.
Saint Peter’s, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion, kept it close throughout and Banks’ two free throws with 1:45 left in overtime gave the Peacocks the lead for good. Doug Edert’s layup with 24 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime. He also made the final two game-sealing free throws for the Peacocks and finished with 20 points.
Saint Peter’s (20-11) moves on to face either Murray State or San Francisco in Saturday’s second round in the East Region.
Not bad for a school with an enrollment of about 3,500 that’s made half as many NCAA Tournament appearances (four) as Kentucky has national titles (eight). Kentucky had more than 22,000 undergraduates on its 900-acre campus as of 2020 and has the second highest-paid coach in college hoops in Calipari (more than $8 million per year).
“It’s huge,” Banks said. “We’re putting Jersey City on the map. We come from Jersey, a small school, probably a lot of people don’t even know who we are.”
Oscar Tshiebwe had 30 points and 16 rebounds for Kentucky (26-8) but his pair of missed free throws early in overtime was costly, and the Wildcats lacked a reliable secondary scorer. TyTy Washington Jr. was held to five points on 2-of-10 shooting.
The game featured 16 ties and 13 lead changes. Kentucky went ahead 68-62 on Sahvir Wheeler’s driving layup with 4:12 remaining. Saint Peter’s followed with seven unanswered points, capped by Edert’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:25 remaining. Kellan Grady put Kentucky back ahead before Edert forced OT.
The Wildcats had their eyes set on a ninth title behind Tshiebwe, the 6-foot-9 forward who is a candidate for national player of the year honors. And Kentucky was playing in front of an efficiently blue-clad crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, a 2 1/2 hour drive from Lexington.
“It is sad because I’ve been wanting this moment for a long time,” Tshiebwe said.
Banks set the tone throughout, making all four 3s for 16 first-half points. He finished 9 of 19 from the field and 5 of 8 from deep, with a loud reaction following most every big shot. Teammates followed follows.
Edert made 5 of 7 shots including both of his 3-point tries. Saint Peter’s finished 9 of 17 overall from 3 and shot 29 of 57 overall (50.9%). The Peacocks also stayed close on the boards (35 to Kentucky’s 36) and made 18 of 21 from the line.
“It feels amazing, truly it feels amazing,” Edert said. “They had a great crowd, a lot of people. I don’t know if you saw it, but we had our own little section over there, too.”
Kentucky was 26 of 61 (43%) overall and 23 of 35 from the line. The Wildcats were attempted at times with the ball, hesitation that ended with forced shots. And it led to a second consecutive loss to close the season.
“My whole thing this week, because I knew they had never played in this stuff, was to get them free and loose and we never got to that point,” Calipari said. “Even during timeouts, I was trying to do that. … As a coach it’s your job to figure out how to finish the game and we didn’t do that.”
After Banks’ go-ahead free throws, Kentucky had two empty possessions. Wheeler’s turnover led to a layup by Drane. Then KC Ndefo blocked Keion Brooks Jr.’s layup attempt, and Banks made two more free throws.
Washington sank a 3 to get Kentucky within 81-79 before Lee and Edert sealed it at the line.
Before taking over at Saint Peter’s, Holloway spent eight years as an assistant at his alma mater, Seton Hall. He played four years for the Pirates and experienced the highs and lows of the NCAA Tournament as a senior in 2000.
Holloway scored 27 points and made the go-ahead basket with 1.9 seconds left in a first-round win over Oregon, but he was injured and played only eight minutes in a second-round win over Temple. He did not play when Seton Hall was eliminated in the Sweet 16 by Oklahoma State.
Saint Peter’s: The Peacocks didn’t flinch against their more talented foe, keeping up with and sometimes dictating the pace. Banks’ perimeter shooting was huge in the first half before he came up late in the game and in OT.
Kentucky: The Wildcats had to work for nearly every basket but succeeded at getting to the line. But they struggled moving the ball and missed several key shots that could have won the game. Instead, they’re going home early a year after missing the tournament altogether.
Saint Peter’s hopes to repeat Oral Roberts’ run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed last year.
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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