INDIANAPOLIS — Saint Peter’s broke the hearts of Kentuckians yet again, getting 17 points from KC Ndefo to beat Murray State 70-60 on Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and complete its rise from obscurity into the Sweet 16.
Two days after tossing eight-time national champion Kentucky out of the bracket, the tiny Jesuit school from Jersey City, New Jersey, became the third 15 seed to advance to a regional semifinal, joining Oral Roberts last year and Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.
Saint Peter’s (21-11) ended a 21-game winning streak and a memorable season for Murray State (31-3), located 265 miles from Lexington in Kentucky’s southeastern corner.
The memories will be lifelong for the Peacocks and coach Shaheen Holloway, a North Jersey hoops lifer who played at Seton Hall and apprenticed there as an assistant. On Friday, Pirates coach Kevin Willard endorsed Holloway as his replacement if he departs in the offseason.
Holloway has more immediate concerns: preparing his team for an East Region semifinal on Friday in Philadelphia against Texas or Purdue.
Doug Edert came off the bench to score 13 points for the Peacocks, including some big baskets late. Saint Peter’s built a 13-point lead early in the second half and never trailed, but Murray State still made it tense. Justice Hill hit a 3-pointer to get the Racers within 59-57 with 4:07 left. Edert followed with a 3 and a layup, and the Peacocks closed it out at the free-throw line.
Hill made five 3s for 19 points and Tevin Brown scored 14 for Murray State. First-half foul trouble hurt the Racers, who had to figure out how to keep DJ Burns and Nicholas McMullen in the game with three fouls each.
Shooting was a problem, too: The Racers shot 35%, including 9 of 28 in the first half. Saint Peter’s finished at 42% and closed the game with a 6-0 run for its ninth consecutive victory.
Ndefo, the Peacocks’ undersized post player at 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds, finished with 10 rebounds and made 7 of 9 free throws.
Saint Peter’s didn’t buckle in its overtime win over No. 2 seed Kentucky and showed no fear this time, either. The campus was buzzing after that victory and Holloway said he received more than 800 text messages. The Peacocks are likely to receiver a hero’s welcome back in Jersey City.
Murray State eventually regrouped after its early foul problems, but for the first time since late December, the Racers failed to close out a game.
Saint Peter’s gets to watch its next opponent on TV when No. 6 seed Texas meets No. 3 seed Purdue in Milwaukee on Sunday.