For the second straight year, a 15 seed moved on to the Round of 32 as Saint Peter's takes on Murray State on Saturday night. The Peacocks (20-11) enter this one on an eight-game win streak while the Racers (31-2) have won a nation-leading 21 straight. The winner of this contest hits the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.
Murray State had to overcome a bunch of adversity as point guard Carter Collins suffered a lower leg injury in the opening two minutes of Thursday night's game against No. 10 San Francisco and was unavailable the rest of the night. The Racers were down to the Dons at halftime and then blew a nine-point lead late that led to overtime. In the extra period, though, KJ Williams took over and got the Racers a 92-87 victory. Williams and Trae Hannibal led the squad with 18 points while Tevin Brown chipped in with 17.
Meanwhile, the Peacocks did the unthinkable and knocked off No. 2 Kentucky in overtime, 85-79. Saint Peter's was down 68-62 with three minutes left before forcing overtime. Doug Edert came off the bench and scored 20 points for the second straight contest. Daryl Banks poured in 27 on 9-of-19 shooting and was the only other double-digit scorer for the Peacocks. They actually held their own on the boards losing that category by just one rebound to the much taller Wildcats.
East Region: No. 15 Saint Peter's Peacocks (20-11) vs. No. 7 Murray State Racers (31-2)
Time: Saturday, March 19 at 7:45 p.m. ET (approximately)
Location: Gainbridge Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Spread: Murray State -9
Keys for Saint Peter's
Head coach Shaheen Holloway's team has prided itself on its defense, and that's what's going to get these Peacocks a trip to the Sweet 16. Kentucky struggled to get much offense from players other than All-American Oscar Tshiebwe on Thursday night. Saint Peter's is among the top 15 teams nationally in both 2-point and 3-point defense. The Peacocks also are a top-50 defense in turnover percentage. All of that makes up for an offense that struggles inside the paint. They are 315th in 2-point shooting at 46.1 percent. Saint Peter's is pretty solid from long range and ranks 30th in free throws per field goal attempt.
In the regular season, the Peacocks featured only two double-digit scorers, with KC Ndefo joining Daryl Banks. Ndefo struggled to get on track due to having to guard Tshiebwe in the middle and being in a bit of foul trouble. Doug Edert is another weapon, especially from the free-throw line, where he shoots 90.1 percent. The defense will have to be on point if Saint Peter's hopes to slow down Murray State's potent offense.
Keys for Murray State
The hope is that Carter Collins will be available after injuring his ankle on Thursday. He may not have the best stats (4.3 ppg, 1.2 apg), but Collins is a key piece to the backcourt. The Racers have some decent depth, but it is a bit of a concern that they played the last game of the night on Thursday and will have less than 48 hours to turn around and do it again. Williams should have a bit of an advantage over Ndefo inside, which opens up the 3-point line for Tevin Brown, Justice Hill, and Trae Hannibal.
Murray State doesn't have a lot of weaknesses as a team. The free-throw shooting could be better, but overall the Racers are a top-50 offense in KenPom's adjusted efficiency. They also rank in the top 50 for adjusted efficiency defense, although only 216th in 2-point defense. I might have picked them to beat Kentucky if that was their opponent on Saturday, but it's not.
Saint Peter's is a great story, but I feel like Murray State is an even more complete team than Kentucky. Although the Peacocks have a bunch of momentum right now, I wonder if they can sustain it against a fellow mid-major. The Racers have less than 48 hours to prepare for this one, and Collins' status is important. If he can't play, then the offense may not run as smoothly. The 15 seed won't win this one, but Saint Peter's will at least cover in a close contest.
Prediction: Murray State 70, Saint Peter's 64
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.