How the Saint Peter’s Head Coach Engineered the Greatest Cinderella Story in NCAA History
The Saint Peter’s Peacocks had no business doing what they did throughout the month of March, but that’s exactly what the madness is all about. No one could’ve predicted the historic run by the little-known MAAC school. Led by a fearless coach, the Peacocks did the unthinkable.
Saint Peter’s had reached the NCAA Tournament just three times in program history. Prior to this month’s tourney, they were 0-3 in those three appearances. But head coach Shaheen Holloway is built different.
The Peacocks didn’t even win the MAAC regular-season title. That honor belonged to Iona where Rick Pitino is the head coach. Even so, SPU finished second in conference play with a regular-season record of 16-12 — hardly an eye-popping win-loss number for a mid-major whose tournament hopes relied on an automatic bid. But that’s exactly what happened.
The Peacocks reeled off four straight wins to end the regular season and pick up steam. And March is all about one thing: streaky guards. SPU rolled into the MAAC tournament with three wins to extend that streak to seven straight and claim a spot in the NCAA Tournament. It was Saint Peter’s first trip to the Big Dance since 2011. And their head coach had something to prove.
If the spirit of March is personified in fearless guards, Shaheen Holloway is the face. The gritty toughness of a New Jersey guard who prides himself on defense, Holloway was the perfect man for the greatest Cinderella story ever told.
Fun Fact: Only two teams from New Jersey have made the Sweet 16 since 2000. Both of those teams — Seton Hall (2000) and Saint Peter’s (2022) — had Shaheen Holloway.
Holloway was born in Queens before moving to Jersey, and he embodies the underdog. He stands just 5-foot-10 and speaks softly, but his composure rivals that of a coach who has been doing it for decades. Holloway took over Saint Peter’s in 2018, and the Peacocks went 10-22. He led them to winning seasons in each of the last two seasons before another seemingly mediocre campaign in 2021-22. But anything can happen in March.
Holloway’s roster — consisting of zero ranked recruits — bowled into the tournament riding that seven-game win streak and feeling the underdog mentality. Then they reeled off the deepest NCAA Tournament run a 15-seed had ever seen.
A first-round stunner against Kentucky was the upset of the opening round. Two days later, they ended Murray State’s nation-leading 21-game win streak. And in the Sweet 16, the David vs. Goliath storyline was on display as the Peacocks shuttered Purdue and 7-foot-4 Zach Edey.
#15 Saint Peter’s def. #2 Kentucky (85-79, OT)
#15 Saint Peter’s def. #7 Murray State (70-60)
#15 Saint Peter’s def. #3 Purdue (67-64)
Cinderella’s night at the ball had to end sometime. North Carolina signaled the last call in the Elite Eight, but not before a little-known coach from an unknown school slayed giants and took the tournament by storm. Their guards — Doug Edert, Daryl Banks III — and a front line of athletic forwards made the world take notice as they embodied the spirit of their underdog head coach.
“It’s a story within a story. I’m super proud of these guys. They came in and made history. Point blank, period. No one has done it.” — Shaheen Holloway
Sports fans love the underdog story, and Shaheen Holloway just wrote one of the greatest ever.
Expect to see him on the bench at a more prominent Division I program next season.
Photo: Ben Solomon / Getty Images