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Saint Peter’s has done the unimaginable so far during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The No. 15-seeded Peacocks upset two powerhouse basketball schools in Kentucky and Purdue and went wire-to-wire in its defeat of a tough Murray State team to get to the Elite Eight. It’s the first time a No. 15 seed as ever made the regional final and the furthest the Peacocks have ever gone in the tournament.
On Sunday, Saint Peter’s will face a new test in getting past North Carolina.
North Carolina’s late run in the regular season propelled them into the Big Dance as a No. 8 seed and they haven’t looked back.
The Peacocks’ run has galvanized the Saint Peter’s community and thrust the small Jesuit university based in Jersey City, N.J., into the limelight.
Wesley Jenkins, a former Saint Peter’s guard who was on the team when they last made the tournament in 2011, told Fox News Digital in a recent interview it’s been exciting to watch this current team.
“It brings a lot of joy to me just because the relationship me and the head coach (Shaheen Holloway) have, he was my high school coach for one year. So, it was just a great thing to see,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins, a Newark, N.J., native, attended Bloomfield Tech High School – where Holloway got his start. Holloway then served under Kevin Willard at Seton Hall and Iona before taking the Saint Peter’s job before the 2018-19 season. He was also an assistant under Bobby Gonzalez at Seton Hall too.
Watching Saint Peter’s edge Purdue 67-64 on Saturday night was a bit sweeter for Jenkins. His team lost to the Boilermakers in the first round of the 2011 tournament 65-43. Jenkins scored eight points.
“It’s definitely sweeter for me just because we lost to Purdue. In my mind, I thought we probably should’ve won,” he told Fox News Digital. “But at least this team right here is on a crazy run.”
Saint Peter’s boasts about 3,000 total students and the campus is only about 30 acres. But Jenkins said it’s the “grittiness” of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area that’s giving the team a little bit of an extra push in the tournament.
For comparison, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has more than 30,000 students and is 729 acres and its men’s basketball team is routinely in the NCAA Tournament with six national championships and 129 tournament victories. Saint Peter’s didn’t have a tournament victory until this month.
As the spotlight gets hotter and the pressure mounts on the Peacocks, Jenkins said since Holloway isn’t getting shaken up the players won’t either. But what will it take to beat a North Carolina team that appears to be just as on fire in recent weeks as Saint Peter’s?
“The same thing they’ve been doing, just playing,” Jenkins said. “(Holloway) said it yesterday, they’re just out there having fun now. It’s just regular basketball for them. It’s nothing special at this point.”
Jenkins played for Saint Peter’s from 2007 to 2011. He averaged more than 12 points per game in each of those three seasons.
The last time North Carolina lost to a double-digit seed came in 2006 when the Tar Heels ran into No. 11 George Mason – who were on their own Cinderella run. George Mason made it all the way to the Final Four before running into the eventual national champion Florida Gators.
Saint Peter’s and North Carolina play Sunday night at 5:05 p.m. ET at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.