16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson stuns No. 1 Purdue at NCAA Tournament
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson said he thought the cameras were off Wednesday in the locker room when he told his players how he really felt about their next opponent.
“The more I look at Purdue,” the Knights’ first-year coach said shortly after winning their NCAA Tournament qualifier in Dayton, Ohio, “the more I think we can beat them. … Let’s go shock the world . “
On Friday night, Fairleigh Dickinson did just that.
By eliminating the Boilermakers 63-58, the Knights became just the second 16-seeded men’s team to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
On Friday, the 16 seeds were 1-150 in the first round. But Fairleigh Dickinson joined the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which became the first 16-man men’s seed to beat a No. 1 in knocking out Virginia in 2018.
“I wanted our guys to believe,” said Anderson, who noted he didn’t realize his postgame message Wednesday would air on the national broadcast following Fairleigh Dickinson’s victory. “We [couldn’t] just be happy to be here.”
Turns out the Knights aren’t going anywhere yet.
Despite owning the shortest roster in Division I men’s basketball — averaging 6-foot-1 in height — Fairleigh Dickinson has relentlessly attacked the rim, even with 7-foot-4 All-American center Zach Edey. inches from Purdue, wandering inside .
Edey scored 21 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked three shots, but the Knights responded with 24 points in the paint at the other end (compared to Purdue’s 26).
In different ways throughout the night, Fairleigh Dickinson turned her apparent size disadvantage into a strength. The Swift Knights invaded Edey and pressured Purdue’s guards. They forced the Boilermakers to 16 turnovers, turning them into 15 points the other way.
The last two of them turned out to be the most critical.
With 1:42 to go and Fairleigh Dickinson clinging to a one-possession lead, Knights forward Sean Moore swept the ball away from Edey. Off the turnover, Moore recovered the ball for a driving layup, giving the Knights a 58-53 lead.
“You could tell he was exhausted,” Moore said of Edey in the second half. “We just kept attacking him, leading him in transition. … There aren’t many teams that can hang on to our speed and our transition and the way we move. “
On the next possession, Moore nailed a 3-pointer off the top of the key, giving him a career-high 19 points in his hometown of Columbus. After the two hoops, chants of “FDU” began pouring in from the Nationwide Arena stands, as even fans of Columbus’ other teams rejoiced to witness the upset.
The Boilermakers had one last chance to tie the score in the closing seconds. But Moore blocked Braden Smith’s lay-up attempt out of bounds. And out of the incoming play, a Fletcher Loyer 3-point attempt from the corner missed everything before falling into the arms of the shortest player on the field, 5-foot-8 Demetre Roberts, who sealed the victory with two shots francs and another block. at the other end.
“We showed why we belong here,” said Roberts, who scored 12 points to go along with four assists.
Roberts was one of the players Anderson brought with him from his previous stop, Division II St. Thomas Aquinas College. Starting guard Grant Singleton, who had five assists and three steals on Friday, is another Saint-Thomas d’Aquin transfer.
Together, they made three Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament and had a 14-5 playoff record on Friday. Anderson said experience was a big key for Fairleigh Dickinson, especially against Purdue’s freshman duo of Loyer and Smith, who combined to commit 10 turnovers.
“It’s tough for freshmen to play against two fifth-year veterans,” Anderson said. “[Their] two first-year guards are going to be great. But I think having two fifth-year seniors…we had the advantage there.”
Fairleigh Dickinson finished as the 23.5-point underdog, making it the biggest point gap since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Knights were 16- 1 to win Friday’s game at Caesars Sportsbook and even more long shots. to other sportsbooks. Purdue was 10-1 to win the entire tournament.
“We had some decision making that just wasn’t very good,” Boilers coach Matt Painter said. “And just kind of allowed them to linger and hang on to the game.”
Excluding top four games, Purdue became the first team to lose consecutive NCAA Tournament games to 15 seeds or worse; the Boilermakers lost to 15-seeded Saint Peter’s in last year’s Sweet 16. Purdue now has six losses to double-digit No. 64 seeds, the most among Big Ten teams.
“I wanted our guys to believe. We [couldn’t] just be happy to be here.”
Tobin Anderson, coach of Fairleigh Dickinson
“I’m still in shock right now,” Moore said nearly 30 minutes after the win, still drenched in water from the post-match celebration in the locker room. “With a moment like this, not knowing you’d be here and then you’re here. … Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel normal again.”
Over the past three days, Fairleigh Dickinson has won half as many games as all of last season, when she finished 4-22.
The Knights haven’t even won their conference tournament. Merrimack defeated Fairleigh Dickinson 67-66 in the Northeastern Conference Championship Game, but was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament as it continues the Division II reclassification process. Thus, the conference’s automatic bid went to the Knights.
Fairleigh Dickinson appeared in Wednesday’s qualifier, dominating Texas Southern 84-61, and two days later the Knights made history.
Anderson, who became the first freshman coach at any school in the last 30 years to win the first round of the tournament as a 15 or 16 seed, said his team was delighted to prepare to keep his race alive. Fairleigh Dickinson next plays Sunday against Florida Atlantic, a 66-65 winner over Memphis.
But first, Anderson admitted, the Knights had some laundry to do. They didn’t do much for the trip.
“I believed it,” Anderson said, “but I’m not sure I believe it.”
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.