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The Magic of March

College basketball is the best.

Syndication: The Record William Bretzger-The Record / USA TODAY NETWORK

I love college basketball with my entire heart. It was born into me when my dad put a basketball in my crib. I played it, coached it, and have now written about it for over a decade. All of that to say it’s a large part of my life and one I thoroughly enjoy.

I had no idea who Saint Peter’s was.

I knew who Shaheen Holloway was from his time at Seton Hall and had some vague idea that Metro Atlantic had a lot of teams in New Jersey but, if pressed to name them, it would have taken awhile until I hit the Peacocks.

That changed on the Thursday of Opening Weekend. The nation generally cheers for whoever is playing Kentucky because UK and their coach are utterly reprehensible. It was an easy choice when Saint Peter’s came roaring back after going down six late and it was pandemonium when they forced overtime and then, improbably, somehow held on to win.

Syndication: The Record William Bretzger-The Record / USA TODAY NETWORK

That left them up against Murray State, a fashionable pick to have given UK a game. That they may have done, but a 12-0 Peacock run that spanned the half did for them, and a late run of their own couldn’t fix it. Suddenly, something extraordinary was happening. The underdog was the third 15 seed to ever make the Sweet 16.

What happened there beggars belief. Saint Peter’s offense had captured attention, but it was their defense that had actually carried them all year and was a legitimate national power. They slowed and stifled the nation’s second best offense, held on through an early Sasha Stefanovic run, and then did what they do. Make a run, scrap, hold on defensively, and then celebrate. Surely they couldn’t, could they?

No. The Final Four was a bridge too far. UNC got out fast and this time the run never came. The Peacocks looked tired and, for the first time, a little overawed by the circumstances. The magic finally ran out.

But Saint Peter’s is the story of March. No one who watched them is ever going to forget what they did for two weekends of basketball. They will forever feature in commercials, intros, and One Shining Moments. Faced with three of basketball giants, they punched back fearlessly. It was the kind of run that captures hearts and creates legend. Your friends who don’t know basketball now know about a tiny school in New Jersey.

As Doug Edert walked off the court yesterday, he stopped. The underdog hero, the guy who became the face of the team, took a deep breath and looked around the arena. As UNC finished celebrating and the fans filed out, Edert soaked it all in. For two weekends he and his teammates had made everyone remember why this is the greatest sport and greatest event on earth. I hope in that moment of contemplation he was bouyed more by what he did than by what he nearly missed. I know all the rest of us were.