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The Peacocks, who came into the tournament as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament champions and the No. 15 seed in the tournament, upset Kentucky and Murray State on their way to the regional semifinal. The run has galvanized college basketball fans.
According to Twitter data provided to Fox News Digital, tweets using the peacock emoji grew 99% over the previous week and the team’s official hashtag #StrutUp has been tweeted 10.6x more in March than when they were playing in the regular season in February. The data also says the school is the fifth-most mentioned school of the men’s tournament behind Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and the school they defeated in the brackets, Kentucky.
Dr. Chelsi Day, a sport psychologist at Ohio State University and a former NCAA Division I diver at Miami University, told Fox News Digital fans can identify with the little guy going up against a powerhouse school, which makes the Peacocks and easy team to root for this far into the tournament.
“Kentucky has been a basketball powerhouse for a long time. That’s the sport I would argue they’re most known for. So you’ve got this team with a storied history being taken down by a team I would argue most of us don’t know where Saint Peter’s is and have never heard of them,” Day said. “And they come in and they don’t barely win, they win. And beyond that, we chalk that up as a fluke. That’s exciting. Great job. This team that no one knows about came in and beat Kentucky and then, they keep winning and keep winning by a lot.”
“I think it’s that continued story of we can identify with the little guy,” Day continued. “We can identify with the person that’s not always winning. And then to see them win again, to continue to defy the odds and exceed expectations, continues to give us that hope that it can be more than a fluke. It can be more than something you just write off that we are capable, that they are capable. And so it’s really exciting to get behind them and take that attitude of, let’s see what they can do. Let’s see how far they can go.”
Saint Peter’s is playing on a stage the school has never been on before, let alone any of the players who have helped the Peacocks get this far. It’s only the fourth time the school has even made the men’s basketball tournament and the overtime win over Kentucky was their first win in school history.
With the pressure potentially ramping up, Day told Fox News Digital that players feeling that extra weight on their shoulders should know the evidence of their success is already there. She pointed to the “nothing-to-lose mentality.”
“It certainly depends on the athlete. When I work with athletes, I think you have two choices. You can get caught up in the pressure of, ‘We beat these teams, oh my gosh we have to keep doing this.’ Especially if you’re saying we have to keep overperforming, or the mindset I prefer to coach athletes into is the nothing to lose mentality. You’ve already defied the odds. You’ve already exceeded the expectations. We have evidence of our skills. We have proof. There’s no longer people that can discredit the talent that we have because we’ve shown it on the biggest stage,” she said. “Let’s go out there and show people what we can do. Let’s use that to help foster confidence because we know we’re capable. We’ve shown you we’re capable. Let’s just get out there and do what we know how to do. Let’s take that nothing to lose mentality, which again can be lost really easily when we start to question and start to have imposter syndrome of ‘do we belong here?’ Can we do this again?’
“I think you see athletes tip on one side or the other often and a lot of that comes from a coaching mentality from a programmatic mentality. But we are best served, we are most successful if we can maintain this ‘yeah, we knew we could do this, let’s keep going out there and doing this.’”
If players start to feel like they’re getting caught up too much in the madness that comes with playing in March, Day offered some advice.
“It all comes back to being in the moment. It comes back to controlling what you can control and the only thing we can control is the space right in front of us and what’s going on in our mind. We can’t control what people say about us. We can’t control how people behave toward us,” she said.
“And so, it’s dialing in and saying ‘What can I control in this exact moment?’ If I’m feeling anxious or nervous or overexcited, what can I do in this exact moment? Can I do an enjoyable activity? Can I listen to a meditation track? Can I do some deep breathing or a healthy distraction? How do I call myself back into my body in this moment so I can focus on the things I can control and that I can do? And it’s going to be hard not to, but every time we notice, you know, our cells being pulled away into the hysteria, we recognize it (like) ‘Oh, I caught myself doing that, and I pull right back into this present moment and focus on the things that I can manage right now.’”
Saint Peter’s Sweet 16 game on Friday night will take place only about 95 miles southwest of the university – at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. While New Jerseyans can argue the differences between North and South Jersey (and whether Central Jersey exists), Day said the less traveling and playing closer to home could do wonders for an athlete.
“I think travel takes a toll on the body and when we’re tired or when we’re run down or unsure obviously our psychological emotional stamina is reduced as well. The less travel, the better we are all around. So, there will be a little bit of that,” Day said.
“I also think that when we’re closer to come, there’s a lot of hometown energy. You feel like you’re playing for your community even if you’re just outside your community you’re still feeling like you’re playing for your region. Your region is showing up for you. You feel like you have that support compared to maybe going into a neutral or hostile territory. I do think that can energize you if you embrace it.”
A win for Saint Peter’s could move the team into the Elite Eight. But Purdue is no slouch of a team.
The Boilermakers have been in or close to the Top 5 in Associated Press Top 25 rankings for most of the season. Purdue is coming off wins against Yale and Texas to get to the Sweet 16. Jaden Ivey, Zach Edy, Trevion Williams and Sasha Stefanovic are all averaging above 10 points per game.
Will the clock strike midnight on the Peacocks? Tip-off is set for 7:09 p.m. ET on Friday night.