UMBC has company.
Fairleigh Dickinson joined the Retrievers in NCAA Tournament tradition and became the second No. 16 to win No. 1 in the first round when they beat Purdue 63-58 on Friday night.
The Knights simply outscored Purdue in the second half as no one other than Zach Edey was able to do anything for Purdue. And even Edey had two crucial comebacks in the final three minutes.
Sean Moore scored the crucial points for FDU with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:03 to go as the 7-foot-4 Edey closed in on him. This gave the Knights a 61-56 lead and was Moore’s ninth consecutive FDU point.
Purdue then had the ball with 30 seconds left to three, but Moore blocked a layup attempt and a Fletcher Loyer 3-point attempt with less than 10 seconds remaining missed the rim.
UMBC – the University of Maryland-Baltimore County – became the first No. 16 seed to win No. 1 in 2018 when it defeated Virginia. And FDU’s frustration may be even greater than UMBC’s. The Retrievers were a 20.5-point underdog coming into the game against Virginia and the FDU was a 23.5-point underdog against the Boilermakers.
It is also the second straight tournament loss for Purdue against a low-ranked New Jersey team. The Boilermakers lost to No. 14 St. Peter’s on Sweet 16 as the #3 runner-up a year ago. And the year before, Purdue lost 78-69 to No. 13 North Texas as the fourth seed. The Boilermakers have lost their last three tournament games to lower-ranked teams since reaching the Elite Eight in 2019.
FDU controlled the last eight minutes
UMBC eliminated Virginia, 74-54, in its historic comeback. This game was clearly not a blast. But it was also clear that one of the shortest teams in the country was not defeated by the team of the best center in the country.
Edey is 10 inches taller than the tallest player in the FDU starting lineup, and Purdue batted the Knights by 10. But it was clear to anyone watching the game that the FDU was not afraid to fight internally with the Boilermakers and had no afraid to try to snatch the ball from Edey’s hands.
Edey inexplicably only had one shot attempt in the final 10 minutes of the game. He finished the game 7-of-11 from the field with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Everyone else on Purdue’s roster shot a combined 12-of-41, while the Boilermakers shot just 36% from the field as a team.
Purdue also struggled to make a 3-pointer. Lower was 3 for 8 behind the arc, while the rest of the team was 2 for 18.
The Boilermakers even led by six with 11:41 to go. But FDU went on an 8-0 run to take a two-point lead with 9:59 left and Purdue never led for the last eight minutes of the game.
Tobin Anderson called his chance?
In addition to becoming the second No. 16 seed to win a No. 1, FDU also became the first team to win a No. 1 after playing a play-in game earlier in the week. The Knights easily won Texas Southern for the right to play Purdue and head coach Tobin Anderson exuded confidence after the game.
Anderson told his team after the win that the more he watched Purdue, the more he felt his team could win. He said after Purdue’s win that he didn’t intend his speech to go to an audience larger than his team, but his team played with the confidence he displayed after winning Tuesday night.
FDU didn’t even win the conference tournament
Most teams in Fairleigh Dickinson’s situation need to win their conference tournaments to enter the NCAA tournament. However, FDU got a matchup against Texas Southern in the play-in game simply by making their conference tournament title game.
FDU lost 67-66 to Merrimack in the Northeast Conference title game on March 7. But the Knights went into that game knowing they were in the NCAA tournament thanks to NCAA rules. Merrimack is in its fourth year at the top level of college basketball after moving up from Division II. And outdated NCAA rules prevent a team from qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for four seasons. As Merrimack was ineligible to participate in the tournament, FDU received the only offer from the NEC.
Conference tournament or not, the turnaround FDU has made from 2021-22 to this season has been remarkable. The Knights were just 4-22 the previous season and parted ways with longtime head coach Greg Herenda. The school signed Anderson from Division II St. Louis. Thomas Aquinas and the Knights went 20-15 in the regular season.
Anderson brought several transfers with him as well and they were the difference against Purdue. Moore, Demetre Roberts and Grant Singleton all played for Anderson at Aquinas and moved with him to FDU. Moore had 12 points and five rebounds, while Roberts hit two free throws after Loyer’s failure to freeze the game.