Columbus, Ohio – pure fun and entertainment – yeah, don’t forget this – an exhilarating and exciting surprise.
That’s what Fairleigh Dickinson brought to the Big Dance, playing three players who were on last year’s Division II team and their former D-II coach Friday night against one of the hottest blue bloods in the NCAA Tournament.
The Knights, ranked 16th in the Eastern Conference, were two days removed from advancing to the 64-row bracket by playing in the first four wins and the youngest team in Division I basketball this season, but they stood tall against the greatest team in the land, the No. 1 seed Purdue.
FDU did everything it did on a magical night, pulling off a stunning 63-58 first round win over Purdue in a stellar David vs Gallath matchup in front of a losing crowd at Nationwide Arena, and winning a round of 32 matchup with Florida Atlantic on Sunday.
Most people in the building had little idea what an FDU was or where it came from. However, halfway through the second half, chants of “FDU! FDU! FDU!”‘ were raining down on the hardwood, and could be heard all the way back to North Jersey.
40 minutes like that are the reason everyone sings to March Madness every year. We can’t take our eyes off that, because nights like the Musketeers are always possible.
“What a night,” FDU coach Tobin Anderson said afterward, still out of breath. “An incredible win for us. An incredible win for our program, our school. It’s hard to put it into words now. It just happened, right? ”
Oh, it happened. It was real and it was amazing.
“We showed why we belong here,” said 5-foot-8 FDU guard Demeter Roberts, one of three players Anderson brought in from St. Thomas Aquinas College in Rockland County, after scoring 12 points and handing out four assists.
“I can’t even explain it,” said forward Sean Moore, one of the other players Anderson brought to FDU. “I’m in shock now. I can’t believe it. It’s crazy. But it feels great.”
Incredible was Moore, a native of suburban Columbus who had a family in double figures watching from the stands. The Knights led with 19 points, the biggest of which came on a key-top three-pointer to give FDU a 61-56 lead with 1:03 remaining.
“Our goal is to hang out,” Anderson said before the game. “I hope you get to a point where it’s a four-minute, six-minute, eight-minute game and you have a chance. ”
That’s exactly what FDU and Anderson did, who just 10 months ago took over a team that went 4-22 last season. They followed the blueprint down to the final details.
With eight minutes left, they took a 52-49 lead. With six minutes left, they took a 54-53 lead. With two minutes remaining, they led 56-53.
The Knights (21-15), who were 25-point underdogs, led at 25:42 of the game, compared to just 11:36 for Purdue (29-6).
FDU’s win marked only the second time in NCAA Tournament history a No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed, following UMBC’s win over Virginia in 2018. The 16th seed is now 2-150 all-time against a No. 1 seed since the men’s tournament expanded to 64 team.
Fairleigh Dickinson didn’t even win the NEC championship, losing to Merrimack by one point in the title game. However, Merrimack could not play in the NCAA Tournament as it was still completing its four-year transition from Division II.
After his victory over Purdue, Anderson said there were people who sent him “miracle hockey speeches and Hozier speeches all day” to give to his team. He didn’t need those. He actually shows videos of his players before games as motivational tools, often about boxing. Before Friday’s game, he was thinking of something different.
“Today, they showed us a video of a lion,” said 6-6 forward Ansley Almonor, who did a great job defending 7-4 Purdue’s Zack Eddy, who finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds, but didn’t. I didn’t try a shot in the last nine minutes. “What makes a lion the king of the jungle? It’s not his speed, it’s not his intelligence, it’s just his mentality. We needed to have the mentality of a lion in order to go out and be the king of the jungle, and go out and be the better team. And that’s what we did.”
Anderson had a feeling his team’s pressing style would make Purdue uncomfortable, and he was spot on.
“My dad was a big fan of boxing,” he said. “Styles make fights. And I think our style hurts them a little bit.”
Before the game, Purdue coach Matt Painter was candid when asked what his players learned from their devastating loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter in the 2022 Sweet 16 tournament.
“St. Peter’s played harder than we did,” said Pinter.
Purdue played hard Friday night. Here’s the thing, though: It’s impossible to imagine any team playing harder than FDU did.
“They earned it, they played better than we did, they coached better than we did and we have to sit through it, we have to face it,” Painter said.
“I think people see now that we belong,” said Anderson. “Here’s the thing: We’re getting better, too. We’re definitely getting better. And that’s exciting.”
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