JERSEY CITY, NJ — When Adebusuyi “Boo-Boo” Shittu enrolled at Saint Peter’s University last fall, he didn’t expect it, as did Gene O’Connell, who played on the team Peacocks who beat Duke at Madison Square Garden in 1968, or Brooke Boutchie, a defenseman on the women’s soccer team, or Olyvia Smith, an outfielder on the softball team who is also dating star goaltender Doug Edert.
None of them, or the more than 800 other fans who packed the Run Baby Run Arena – yes, that’s the name – in downtown Jersey City, thought St. Peter would become just the third seed of series No. 15 to make the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Tournament.
But they did. Shock, awe and utter elation erupted when St. Peter’s beat the Murray State Racers, 70-60 on Saturday night. The Peacocks never hung around from start to finish, and the fans in attendance – a third of the university’s student body – never stopped cheering for the duration of the game.
You’ll never confuse Run Baby Run with Cameron Indoor, but for one night it was the pinnacle of basketball fandom. The students strutted like peacocks every time KC Ndefo sank or blocked a shot. A big Edert header emerged every time he made a major play. Some members of the men’s swim team even donned their blue swimsuits at halftime. Everyone in the arena cheered as if it was the greatest game of all time.
Because for Saint-Pierre, it was.
It was the Peacock’s fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since 2011. Kentucky’s upset was the school’s first victory in the big dance. Prior to this year, the biggest win in school history came 54 years ago when the Peacocks upset No. 10 Duke, 100-71, at the National Invitational Tournament on March 18, 1968.
But head coach Shaheen Holloway’s 2022 squad changed everything.
“It’s the best team St. Peter’s have ever had – putting us in second place,” said O’Connell, who was a forward for that 1968 team. “It’s so exciting. Hats off to this team. They are brave. .It’s remarkable.
O’Connell watched and clapped along with his grandson, Harry Baughman. The two still go to St. Peter’s home games, but Saturday night was something different. It was special. And it left them speechless.
“They’ve got a hell of a coach. He’s an incredible, incredible man,” O’Connell said. “It definitely puts them on the map. Now can they stay there? It’s up to the kids to decide.”
Whenever anyone asked Brooke Boutchie about the school she went to, she would always explain that St. Peter’s was “just a little school in New Jersey, right next to New York.”
That changed Saturday night.
“Now you don’t have to say that anymore,” said Boutchie, a defender for the soccer team. “Now all you have to say is St. Peter’s University and everyone knows what you’re talking about. Our basketball team put us on the map.
Shittu, a freshman computer science student, grew up watching the NCAA tournament. He passionately followed Duke as a child and cheers on the Blue Devils to this day. When he came to St. Peter’s, he didn’t think it was a school known for its sports. He had never even been to a basketball game and didn’t know the team well. But when he saw the Peacocks shock Kentucky in the first round on Thursday, he couldn’t look away.
“I had never seen them before coming here, so to see them play as well as they have played is crazy to me. I never thought this would happen,” Shittu said. “It’s crazy. These guys deserve it. I never would have imagined this.
The parade will continue in Jersey City, at least for a few more days. The Peacocks will face the winner of Sunday night’s game between No. 3 Purdue and No. 6 Texas. Next week will be a tough game, sure, but not one of the Peacock fans seems too worried about yet.
“It’s crazy for St. Peter’s. Everyone disrespects us,” said Justin Funari, one of the strippers. “But we’re here! St. Peter’s is here!”