With its 63-58 victory against Purdue on Friday night, Fairleigh Dickinson joined the Retrievers in NCAA tournament history as the second No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 in the first round. Now this college is headed to play Florida Atlantic in the second round of March Madness.
No one other than Zach Edey was able to accomplish much for Purdue in the second half, so the Knights just outperformed them. Even Edey committed two crucial errors in the last three minutes.
With 1:03 remaining, Sean Moore hit the game-winning three from the top of the key as the 7-foot-4 Edey closed in on him. Moore scored nine points in a row for FDU at that moment, giving the Knights a 61-56 advantage.
When Purdue got the ball and was trailing by three points with 30 seconds left, Moore stopped a layup attempt, and with less than 10 seconds left, Fletcher Loyer’s 3-point attempt missed the rim.
The University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) upset Virginia to become the first No. 16 seed to overcome a No. 1 in 2018. And the surprise by FDU might be even greater than UMBC’s. The Retrievers were a 20.5-point underdog prior of the game versus Virginia and FDU was a 23.5-point underdog against the Boilermakers.
Moreover, Purdue suffered its second consecutive tournament defeat to a low-seeded New Jersey squad. The Boilermakers had a No. 3 seed last year and lost to St. Peter’s, a No. 15 seed, in the Sweet 16. Yet as a No. 4 seed the year before, Purdue suffered a 78-69 defeat to No. 13 North Texas. Since reaching the Final Eight in 2019, the Boilermakers have dropped their last three tournament games to underdog teams.
For the last eight minutes, FDU was in charge
With a score of 74–54, UMBC defeated Virginia in a crushing upset. Clearly, this game wasn’t a rout. Yet it was also evident that the team with the best big man in the nation wasn’t outmatched by one of the smallest teams in the country.
The tallest player in FDU’s starting lineup is 10 inches shorter than Edey, and Purdue outrebounded the Knights by ten. Everyone who saw the game, though, could see that FDU wasn’t scared to engage in a struggle with the Boilermakers inside and wasn’t afraid to attempt to wrest the ball away from Edey.
Unexpectedly, Edey only attempted one shot throughout the game’s closing 10 minutes. He finished the game with 21 points and 15 rebounds on 7 of 11 field goal attempts. The remaining Purdue players combined for just 12 of 41 shots, and the Boilermakers’ overall field goal percentage was just 36%.
Even Purdue struggled to make 3-pointers. Lower shot 3 of 8 from beyond the arc, compared to 2 of 18 for the rest of the team.
With 11:41 left, the Boilermakers even had a six-point lead. However, FDU went on an 8-0 run to grab a two-point lead with 9:59 remaining, and Purdue failed to take the lead over the game’s last eight minutes.
Tobin Anderson, did you call your shot?
FDU not only became the first team to defeat a No. 1 after competing in a play-in game earlier in the week, but also the second No. 16 seed to do it. Coach Tobin Anderson showed confidence after the Knights handily defeated Texas Southern to earn the chance to play Purdue.
After the victory, Anderson informed his players that the more he watched Purdue, the more certain he became that his team could prevail. He claimed after the victory over Purdue that he didn’t mean for his speech to be heard by anyone other than his squad, but his team displayed the same level of assurance that he did that night.
Even its conference tournament wasn’t won by FDU
In the majority of cases, clubs like Fairleigh Dickinson must win their conference tournaments in order to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Yet by winning its conference tournament, FDU earned a matchup against Texas Southern in the play-in game.
On March 7, Merrimack defeated FDU 67-66 in the Northeast Conference championship contest. But because of NCAA regulations, the Knights knew going into that game that they had made the NCAA tournament.
After advancing from Division II, Merrimack is now in its fourth season at the highest level of collegiate basketball. A team going up cannot qualify for the NCAA tournament for four seasons because of the obsolete NCAA regulations. Merrimack was ineligible to participate in the tournament, so FDU received the NEC’s lone bid.
Whether or not FDU wins the conference tournament, the transformation from 2021–22 to this season has been impressive. In just their fourth season, the Knights went 4-22 and fired longstanding head coach Greg Herenda. Anderson was hired by the school from Division II St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Knights finished the regular season with a 20-15 record.
The transfers Anderson brought with him versus Purdue also made a difference. At Aquinas, Moore, Demetre Roberts, and Grant Singleton were teammates of Anderson’s who later transferred with him to FDU. Moore finished with 12 points and 5 rebounds, while Roberts added two free throws to seal the victory after Loyer’s missed shot.