And it’s over. Saint Peter’s has done the unthinkable! The Peacocks are in uncharted territory. They’re going to the Sweet 16.
The Saint Peter’s Peacocks are the most beloved team in all of sports. And CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle has had the best seat in the house during their improbable run in the NCAA Tournament.
From the scorer’s table at center court, Eagle has provided the soundtrack to heart-stopping victories by the 15th-seeded Peacocks over No. 2 Kentucky and No. 7 Murray State.
He’ll once again be behind the mic on Friday night in Philadelphia, when Saint Peter’s faces heavily-favored No. 3 Purdue in the Sweet 16 at Wells Fargo Center. The Peacocks are 12.5-point underdogs to the Boilermakers. The small school located in Jersey City is also +35,000 to win the national championship at FanDuel.
“It’s amazing because there are different phases that come with a Cinderella,” Eagle told PlayNY. “The initial phase, which is whether or not the team can even hang around with a Blue Blood. Then the second phase, which can they be competitive? And then the third phase, which is, ‘Wait, can they actually win the game?’
“They hit phase three at the end of the Kentucky game, and as you watch it unfold you realize that this is in the record books forever. It can never be taken away from Saint Peter’s. This is a game that will be mentioned for many years in NCAA Tournament history. It helps define a program for the rest of time. No matter what happens from here on out, this team will be remembered in the most positive light.”
Eagle has seen Holloway go from game-winning PG to Cinderella coach
Twenty-two years ago, Eagle provided the commentary as a last-second layup from point guard Shaheen Holloway enabled Seton Hall to upset Oregon in the Big Dance. “I said, ‘You had more hair back then,’” Eagle joked with Holloway, now the Saint Peter’s coach, in a pre-broadcast meeting. “And he said, ‘Yeah’ — and then he rubbed his head — ‘I don’t have any now.’”
Holloway’s authenticity then struck the CBS broadcaster.
“He’s brutally honest about his players, his approach and his expectations. … Shaheen told us the kinds of things that I think every coach of a lower-seeded team says. ‘We’re just going to treat it like any other game. It’s just basketball. I told my guys it’s going to be like an open-gym run. Just go play.’
“But they actually listened to him. All those points resonated. They did react in that manner. They never seemed overwhelmed or disheveled or panicked. The first two rounds they looked like they belonged, and that’s the sign of a really good team, and a well-coach team at that.”
Saint Peter’s guard Doug Edert has grabbed Eagle’s attention
Peacocks guard Doug Edert has quickly turned into a fan favorite with his late-game heroics, averaging 16.5 points over the first two rounds.
“The kid’s got a knack. He does not shy away from the moment,” Eagle said. “He’s another one that believes in himself, and I think he’s injected all these guys with confidence.”
Eagle emphasized the real effect of the ‘Why Not Us?’ mentality. Edert has “basically said it,” Eagle told PlayNY. Every guy on that Saint Peter’s team who fled under-recruited and deserved to play for bigger programs, who felt dismissed by bigger programs, they bought into that mentality.
“When you have that collective philosophy and that kind of temperament it can translate to some pretty special things on the basketball court if everyone believes together,” Eagle said. “And they’ve just hit at the perfect moment. It’s not bad when you get a little Mustache Madness sprinkled in, too.”
Saint Peter’s basketball now on the map thanks to March Madness
Saint Peter’s will face a daunting challenge against a much bigger Purdue squad. And who knows what the future holds. Holloway seems likely to go back to his alma mater after Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard went to Maryland.
And Holloways’ players might end up transferring to those bigger schools who overlooked them. Either way, the men’s college basketball program’s Cinderella run has very much put this tiny school on the map.
“Jim Spanarkel grew up three blocks from Saint Peter’s. What are the odds?” said Eagle, who lives in the Garden State, referring to his broadcast partner. “He’s calling his 24th NCAA Tournament and this is the story that he’s stumbled on. It’s pretty wild. … I think a lot of people that filled out a bracket this year after Saint Peter’s won scratched their heads and Googled, ‘Where is Saint Peter’s University?’”
Even with expansion of sports betting Eagle prefers to ‘just call the game’
Legal sports betting has obviously become more mainstream. Even if New Jersey prohibits betting on NJ college teams like Saint Peter’s. (That said, those willing to brave the long March Madness betting odds of backing Saint Peter’s can do so in New York.) But even as legalized wagering becomes more widely accepted, Eagle tries to cater to his entire audience.
“I would tell you that it’s a really interesting story, but it’s not. I don’t think about it. I just call the game,” Eagle said. “And I recognize that you’ve got different types of people in the audience. You have college basketball fanatics, you have casual fans, you have people that have not watched a college game all year but they filled out an office bracket, and then you have gamblers interested in every bounce of the ball because of how it will impact their bottom line.
“And my job is to cater to everybody in the audience so you just have to keep everything in mind when you’re doing these games but the gambling side of it does not dominate my prep or my broadcast approach. And there’s no edict, I just think it’s understood.”