The celebration was nearing its end Friday night as Saint Peter’s cleared the court at the Wells Fargo Center following its stunning Sweet 16 win over Purdue by a 67-64 score.
But there was still another moment to savor, another roar to hear for Clarence Rupert, Saint Peter’s North Philadelphia freshman. He turned back to the crowd — many of which were his family and friends — and raised his hands as the fans cheered once more.
The night belonged to Saint Peter’s as the Peacocks became the first 15th seed to ever reach the Elite Eight. The Peacocks were supposed to be outclassed by Purdue’s talent and overmatched by their size. But Saint Peter’s — from Rupert swatting the ball away from Purdue’s 7-foot-4 center on the opening possession to Daryl Banks hitting a jumper to take a two-point lead with 2 minutes left — refused to be denied.
Saint Peter’s answered every punch that Purdue threw and the story of March continues to be written. The commuter school from Jersey City did more than just hold its own against big boys from the Big Ten. It turned them away.
Daryl Banks III led Saint Peter’s with 14 points, none of which was bigger than the driving layup he made to take a two-point lead. Rupert scored 11 points, all of which came in the first half. Doug Edert, the mustachioed reserve guard who has become the face of the Peacocks, knocked down a pair of free throws with 4.1 seconds left to put Saint Peter’s ahead by three.
Saint Peter’s will meet the winner of Friday’s late game between UCLA and North Carolina on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four. The Peacocks could already make the case as the unlikeliest of Sweet 16 teams, but now there’s no debate to who the unlikeliest Elite Eight team is.
Purdue, which held a 33-29 halftime lead, seemed ready to pull away at several points in the second half, but the Peacocks had an answer each time. Lee knocked down a 3 to tie the game at 45 with 9:13 left. Edert hit three foul shots five minutes later to get within one. And Banks tied the game at 57 with a crafty turn-around jumper after spinning through the lane.
St. Peter’s, a hard-nosed team from a hardscrabble town, would not go away without a fight. The Wells Fargo Center sounded like Jersey City as even the UCLA and North Carolina fans — awaiting their teams’ nightcap — were roaring for the underdogs. The crowd was partial from the opening tip and only grew louder as the upset became more likely. It was a home game for Saint Peter’s. And it will get another on Sunday.