Most of the country watched in shock on Thursday as Saint Peter’s, led by an unassuming 6-foot-2, 185 guard, delivered one big shot after another as it defeated Kentucky in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Marty Higgins Sr. however was not surprised by what he saw on the television in his Nutley home.
With wins over Kentucky and Murray State, Saint Peter’s became just the third 15th seed to ever make it to the Sweet 16. And Nutley’s Doug Edert, with an unmistakable mustache and unwavering confidence, has emerged as one of the biggest overnight stars of March Madness.
As Edert and his team from Jersey City formally introduced themselves to America, Higgins got flashbacks to when Edert was just 8, learning the game and already craving the ball when the game was on the line.
“He was always the kid at the end that was looking at you and saying alright, just run that play for me and I got it. Give me the ball and whether I pass it to the open guy or finish it, we’re going to win,” said Higgins, who as the founder of Suburban Elite, was Edert’s first basketball coach. “The ball was always in his hands at that time because he always wanted it. When they’re in the backyard and it’s game point, he’s got the ball.”
This time the stage was not a quiet driveway in Nutley, but Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Edert scored the Peacocks’ last five points, including a daring jumper in the paint with 23 seconds left to force overtime against Kentucky. Then, in the extra session, he buried a game-tying 3-pointer as part of a 10-1 Saint Peter’s run. Edert sealed the historic 85-79 upset with a defensive rebound and two free throws in the final seconds.
Two nights later, after a quiet first half, Edert erupted for 10 consecutive points late in the second half, allowing the Peacocks to pull away for a 70-60 victory over a Murray State team that had won 21 consecutive games.
In two NCAA Tournament games, Edert has come off the bench to score a team-high 33 points, shooting 10-of-13 from the field and 12-of-14 from the foul line. Edert’s play has put him on the back page of the New York Post and New York Daily News, while Saint Peter’s has become a national phenomenon.
This trip to the NCAA Tournament would not have been possible if not for Edert’s performance in the MAAC Tournament final against Monmouth when he scored 12 of the Peacocks’ final 12 points as he finished with a game-high 20 in a 60-54 victory.
“I said (to Doug’s father) Bill, this is who he is,” said Higgins, who traveled to Indianapolis for Saturday’s win against Murray State. “You look at who goes on the court and in these big games, some of them get the deer in the headlights look. They’re just nervous. Dougie never has that. If you watch Dougie on the court, no matter who it is (on the other side), it doesn’t matter.
“He’s not fazed by these moments, by guys who are supposedly Top 10, All-American players. Dougie’s like ‘alright, let’s go. We’re all on the court together.’ He’s played with some of those guys, he’s played against a lot of those guys.”
Higgins first saw Edert at a flag football game in which his son Marty was also playing. Higgins, himself a fine player at the University of Maine, then convinced Doug to play on the Suburban Elite youth teams he was creating.
Even in a group of 30 kids of different ages, Edert’s passion for the game, and his obsession to keep getting better, stood out.
“We had a group of 30 kids in different age groups and Dougie was one of them,” Higgins said. “Dougie was addicted. He just had this total dedication and passion and love for basketball that was unlike any of the other kids.”
Edert played AAU ball for the NJ Roadrunners under legendary coach Sandy Pyonin and went to Bergen Catholic for high school. As a senior, Edert emerged as one of New Jersey’s top guards, earning All-State, Second Team honors by NJ.com after averaging 14.6 points per game, making 71, 3-pointers, and leading Bergen Catholic to a Non-Public A title and a trip to the Tournament of Champions final.
Edert quickly earned a reputation as one of the MAAC’s top outside shooters when he made 44.2% of his 3-pointers as a freshman. But it was this season as a junior that his development as an all-around player became impossible to ignore.
In addition to his 42.5% shooting from 3-point range, Edert led the MAAC in free throw shooting, and he set career highs in field goal percentage and points per game thanks to his ability to attack the basket and score in the paint.
“You think he’s a shooter, but he’s so much more than that,” Higgins said. “You see his creativeness in the lane, that mid-level game, like the floater that tied the (Kentucky) game at 71-71. I knew it was just a matter of time until he felt comfortable getting into the lane and making those plays and (head coach Shaheen Holloway) felt comfortable enough allowing him to make those plays.”
Edert and the Peacocks look to continue their Cinderella run on Friday when it faces Big Ten champion Purdue in Philadelphia. There, the Peacocks will share an arena with traditional March powers UCLA and North Carolina.
“It’s such an amazing feeling to watch this. Dougie’s been like another son to me,” Higgins said. “My love and my passion and my heart and my excitement is very similar to what it’s like when my own son (now a shortstop at St. John’s) is playing.
“It’s so exciting to watch somebody that you love and that cares so much about this goal and to see him reap the rewards that I could only dream about.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)