The first indelible moment of the 2022-23 college basketball season will take place in Jersey City Monday night.
That’s when the banners will be raised and the rings bestowed in honor of the Saint Peter’s basketball team’s historic run through March Madness, which started with a MAAC Tournament title and ended in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. Even though the Peacocks will feature a new head coach and mostly new rotation, their 7 p.m. opener against NJIT at Run Baby Run Arena is more than a game — it’s an event.
“Everybody is very interested to see what we’ve got this year,” said fifth-year guard Isiah Dasher, one of the returnees and a Jersey City native. “Everybody wants to come see us now.”
That’s hardly an exaggeration. Season-ticket sales have tripled, but the impact of Saint Peter’s March Madness run goes far beyond basketball. Chew on this:
∎ Fiscal year 2022 featured a university record for unrestricted giving, exceeding $2.2 million.
∎ There was a 47 percent increase in new donors from fiscal year 2021.
∎ The number of out-of-state students who enrolled this fall doubled that of fall 2021. The same amount were accepted, but double the amount decided to attend.
∎ The number of applicants for next year is up 7 percent from last year at this time. A huge bump in applications arrived from March 17-26.
∎ In the three days after the Saint Peter’s upset of Kentucky, online orders for Peacocks’ gear came from 45 different states. In the week after, the campus store recorded $47,000 in merchandise sales, more than doubling sales from the entire fall semester.
∎ The university’s website, saintpeters.edu, received 67,423 visitors the day after the Kentucky upset. The following week, the site reached a high of 247,493 users.
∎ On Twitter, there were 476,512 mentions of Saint Peter’s with the #MarchMadness hashtag.
“There’s definitely name recognition nationally now,” said head coach Bashir Mason, who grew up in Jersey City and comes to Saint Peter’s after leading Wagner to three Northeast Conference titles. “You pick up the phone to reach out to recruits and their high school coaches and AAU coaches, and they’re familiar with you and excited to be on the phone with you.”
Locally, Mason said, “Whenever I try to go out and get lunch somewhere, it turns into me a having a conversation with so many people about the run Saint Peter’s made that I don’t even get a chance to eat lunch.”
‘The same tough brand of basketball’
Much has been said about Saint Peter’s attrition – the top seven players transferred out, and head coach Shaheen Holloway and his top two assistants moved on to Seton Hall. The three guys from the rotation who return are Dasher, who averaged 4.8 points in 18 minutes; sophomore guard Jaylen Murray (5.8 ppg), whom Mason calls “one of the most talented kids I’ve coached”; and 6-foot-10 sophomore center Oumar Diahame, who started 18 games and came on strong down the stretch.
“We’re going to play the same tough brand of basketball that we played with Coach Shaheen,” Dasher said. “We’re going to dive on the floor. We’re going to win 50/50 balls and take charges.”
Dasher and his teammates were incredulous that the MAAC coaches’ preseason poll projected them to finish eighth.
“We’re taking it personally,” he said. “I don’t know why we got picked eighth, but I know what our expectations are. We know what we can do. They picked us fifth last year.”
Dasher said he remains in constant touch with the players who transferred out. They’re scattered across the landscape at Seton Hall (KC Ndefo), St. Bonaventure (Daryl Banks), Missouri State (Matt Lee), La Salle (Hassan and Fousseyni Drame), Bryant (Doug Edert) and Southern Illinois (Clarence Rupert). They have a group text chain and play online video games together.
“We always check in on each other,” Dasher said. “The bond we have, that’s something you can’t take away.”
An institution uplifted
In the modern history of college basketball, there’s never been something quite like Saint Peter’s. As everyone knows, the Peacocks were the first No. 15 seed to make a regional final. But even compared to Cinderellas past – Loyola-Chicago, Florida-Gulf Coast, Davidson, VCU, George Mason — they danced deep into March with just a fraction of the resources. That needs to be celebrated, and it will be twice during this opening week. First, with banners and rings on the Boulevard, then with a crowd of 10,000 for a Nov. 12 visit to Seton Hall. The latter will be one of those rarest of occasions – when a visitor gets showered with cheers, real cheers.
“It’s special,” Mason said of Monday’s ceremony. “It’s something that should be done for the guys who return and should be motivation for myself and the new players we have on the team. What those guys did was something incredible, and to be a part of it is special. We should all strive for that.”
Last year, attendance at the Peacocks’ home opener was 434. This year, the 3,200-seat Run Baby Run will be filled or close to it. But that figure only begins to tell the story of an institution uplifted, from the donations to the enrollment to the brand recognition.
As the curtain goes up on the 2022-23 campaign, Saint Peter’s University finds itself in a new place – on the map.
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at email@example.com.