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Saint Peter's University—majority-minority Jesuit school—headlines March Madness with upset of #2 Kentucky

A Catholic university with a one-fifth Black student population took down Kentucky on Thursday night in a thrilling start to March Madness.

The Peacocks celebrate on Selection Sunday after receiving news of their seeding in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. (Saint Peter's Athletics)

A wild first round in the 2022 NCAA Tournament has produced a storyline to best all others, with #15-seed Saint Peter’s University (20-11) overtaking #2 Kentucky (26-8) with a thrilling 85-79 overtime win on Thursday night.

The small Jesuit institution is one of several Catholic schools to win so far in March Madness, and is unique as the only one with a major-minority student body—at nearly 80%, including a Black population hovering around 20%.

To say the upset was a bracket buster would be an understatement, with the feisty New Jersey mid-major entering the costing as 18.5-point underdogs, according to Vegas.

It is their fourth appearance in the tournament and their first since 2011, having defeated Monmouth in the heavily-Catholic Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament on March 12th to secure their spot.

UK Coach (and devout Catholic) John Calipari and star forward Oscar Tshiebwe were expected to restore the program to tournament glory this year—following a disappointing 9-16 finish last year, missing out on the postseason altogether, and the canceled NCAA Tournament in 2020.

Instead, they were held to just 42.6% shooting on the game, including a dismal 26.7% from three-point range, well off their season marks. Saint Peter’s shot 50.9% from the field, buoyed by a blistering (and ultimately insurmountable) 52.9% from deep.

Now, as of today, UK’s last win during March Madness was in March 2019.

On Friday, they played just 3 hours from their home arena—effectively making the matchup a home game—but it was not enough, though the game remained close before they took a small lead over Saint Peter’s late in the first half.

Just as quickly, however, the Peacocks roared back, holding their opponents scoreless for much of the final minutes of regulation, before experiencing a drought of their own to start the overtime period.

A final defensive stand brought the 150-year-old Jesuit university over the hump, with late free throws from junior guard Matthew Lee effectively icing the game—and giving Saint Peter’s their first March Madness win in program history.

The triumph was the 4th-largest point-spread upset in the tournament since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams.

"[I’m] proud of my guys for battling,” said Peacocks coach Shaheen Holloway, himself a Catholic-school product who starred at Seton Hall in the late 1990s.

“This is something that these guys understand, no disrespect to anybody, but we wasn't coming down here just to lose. We came down here to fight and we did.”

Their fight continues tonight at 7:45pm ET, with a second-round matchup in the round of 32 against #7-seed Murray State (31-2)—another home-crowd contest, and against a team that hasn’t lost since late December.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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