PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Since their colossal upset victory in the Round of 64, most of the college basketball world fell in love with the No. 15 seed St. Peter’s Peacocks.
They slayed the dragon against the John Calipari-coached Kentucky Wildcats, defeated Murray State by 10 points and overcame the size of Purdue’s frontcourt to earn an Elite Eight game against the No. 8 seed North Carolina Tar Heels.
Sure, they ruined brackets along the way, but people couldn’t help but root for them. The Jersey ethos that Shaheen Holloway and his squad brought to the table charmed fans nationwide. So on Sunday in the Wells Fargo Center, St. Peter’s fans and college basketball neutrals wanted to see how much longer the ride would last.
But North Carolina — a team in the midst of its own sort of Cinderella run — found itself playing the evil stepmother on Sunday, defeating St. Peter’s, 69-49.
“Coming into the game, we weren't worried about who was going to be in the crowd or anything like that,” sophomore guard Caleb Love said. “We were focused on winning the game.”
The Tar Heels had their way offensively with a Brady Manek 3-pointer here and an Armando Bacot layup there. And on the other end, St. Peter’s went scoreless for the first four minutes and fell into a nine-point hole.
A team that never trailed by more than six points in the tournament quickly fell behind by double figures, losing by 20. A team that kept opposing bigs at bay allowed a 20-point, 22-rebound game from Bacot.
UNC outmatched St. Peter’s all night, playing the role of the spoiler to a T.
“We keep our eyes straight ahead, and we ignore all the noise,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “And I consistently tell them to turn down or turn off the noise.”
The Peacock crowd remained active in the second half, even with the big deficit. They cheered after UNC committed an inbounds violation. They hounded the referees when they disagreed with a call. They even gave the St. Peter’s pep squad a loud ovation while performing during a timeout.
The Peacocks tried to inch closer and extend their March Madness run, but it was to no avail. The Tar Heels badly wanted to secure a trip to New Orleans, and nothing was going to deter them.
“It's been a roller coaster the past few years,” senior forward Leaky Black said. “Pretty much been laughed at on social media. It feels good to get the last laugh right here, but we're not done yet.”
By the end of the game, the once hostile crowd began chanting and clapping, “Hubert Davis!” and applause rang through Wells Fargo Center as the team cut down the nets.
“It was really emotional towards the end of the game when we can finally settle in and realize that these guys are going to a Final Four,” Davis said. “It was something that I just desperately wanted for them.”
Few chose the team in their brackets, many didn’t believe they would even make the tournament. North Carolina overcame adversity to reach the Final Four, beating two higher-seeded teams along the way.
Though St. Peter’s was this year’s team of destiny, the Tar Heels had a destiny of their own — facing Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils in his last ever NCAA Tournament for the chance to play in the National Championship.
When Sunday’s game came to a close, assistant coach Sean May — who was the Most Outstanding Player for UNC's 2005 National Championship — was prompted to turn to the crowd as a fan asked him a question that alluded to the team's rollercoaster ride: “What they gon' say now?”
“What they gon' say now?” he responded.
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