Merrimack’s Joe Gallo rooting for FDU in NCAA Tournament
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There are many elements to the magical March Madness run Fairleigh Dickinson is on after the Knights upset No. 1 seed Purdue on Friday night.
Many of them have been well documented, starting with Knights coach Tobin Anderson, who was hired just 10 months ago from Division II St. Thomas Aquinas in Rockland County to take control of FDU, and who brought three of his players with him. .
One of those players — Columbus, Ohio, native Sean Moore — was the hero on Friday night.
One under-the-radar element of FDU’s history is the fact that the school entered the NCAA Tournament on a technicality.
Merrimack, of Andover, Mass., won the Northeastern Conference tournament and under normal circumstances would have received the automatic NCAA offer. But these are not normal circumstances.
After moving from Division II to Division I, Merrimack is in the final year of what the NCAA calls a four-year “transition” period, during which a school moving up one division is not eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament.
So instead of experiencing the magic that FDU enjoyed this week, Merrimack coach Joe Gallo and his players are watching on TV at home.
“I think people are probably picturing me sitting in front of the TV angry and yelling, ‘This could be us,’ but that’s not my thought at all,” Gallo told The Post on Saturday when reached. at his home in New Hampshire. “We did everything we could do. We finished the season on an 11-game winning streak. We won the last game we were allowed to play.
“I think what FDU is doing is just great for the NEC because people have been a bit depressed by the NEC all year. Not only what they’ve done [Friday] was amazing, but they absolutely ran away with the thing in their first game [against Texas Southern in the First Four]. It’s great for the league and I hope they keep winning.
Gallo said he and FDU coach Tobin Anderson have been friends for a long time.
“We played against each other my freshman year at Merrimack and his [St. Thomas Aquinas] team eliminated us from the NCAA Division II tournament,” he said. “We have a ton of mutual respect for each other.”
Gallo, in fact, was one of the first to send congratulations to Anderson after the win over Purdue.
“I’m happy for him and I’m happy for the league,” Gallo said. “A lot of people find out that [NCAA] governing for the first time and they can’t believe it. We have known this rule for four years. We won our regular season our first year in Division I and we couldn’t go to the NIT because the NCAA owns the NIT.
“This is old news for us, but we appreciate that it has brought the rule to light and people are talking about Merrimack. It’s great publicity for our program and our school.”
The FDU run gives Merrimack players, who went 15-4 against NEC opponents this year, confidence that they can make it next year, after their quirky ‘transition’ period is over.
“It gives them the feeling that it can be done,” Gallo said. “I feel a bit for our players now, though. We won the championship, we celebrated, and no one ever thought, “Poor us, we can’t play in the NCAA Tournament. But now that it’s real and it’s on TV, I think our guys can’t live March Madness.
Gallo said he sensed a “mixed bag of emotions” among his players about watching this NCAA tournament.
“Some of them say, ‘I can’t watch,’ he said. “We have guys who watch and wish they were there and other guys who say, ‘I don’t even want to. not look.
“But it’s great for the little guy. It makes everyone believe that you can put together a team of tough kids who believe in your system, and those guys really believe in what Tobin does. That’s a good model of success that many people can learn from.”
Gallo, who will see a number of his best players return, believes his side can follow FDU’s example.
“We are going to start a new journey now that our ‘transition’ is finally over and hopefully we can be in a [NCAA] parenthesis next year,” he said. “We’ve got a good number of guys coming back and they’re already talking about trying to do what we just did and having an extra prize at the end of the rainbow next year.”
New York Post