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A record day on the basketball court

Arnie Leshin 

I remember we used to call it “Fairleigh Ridiculous”. It hung out in the Garden State North Central area of Teaneck. Not much of a threat in most everyday sports, FDU was always good academically.

 

Now it has made history as the second 16th-seeded school in 152 games to defeat a No. 1, that being Friday’s Fairleigh Dickinson’s 67-62 stunner over Purdue in the March Madness NCAA game played in Columbus, Ohio. The only other time this occurred was in 2018 when No. 16 UMBC defeated No. 1 Virginia. 

 

This just didn’t figure. The Knights didn’t even win their Northeast Conference tournament, losing by one point to Merrimack in the championship game, but Merrimack wasn’t eligible to compete in the national tournament, thus FDU stepped in.

They came in as the most outsized in the field, with a pair of 6-foot-2 starting forwards, a pair of 5-8 guards, and a 6-3 post player. They had one 6-6 player off the bench.

No matter, the Knights mixed in a slow paced offense and found their way to the basket as Purdue had a confused look. Junior Stan Moore led the way with the team-high 19 points, and on defense his team pressed most of the way, swamping Boilermakers 7-4 All-America junior Zach Edey to contain him, and he wound up with 21 points and 15 rebounds. 

 

It was an up-and-down season for Purdue as it won and lost several  close games. Last year it came in as a third seed and was eliminated by No. 15 Saint Peter’s College, another small New Jersey school, in the Sweet 16. In 2021, the 3rd-seeded Boilermakers were knocked out in the first round by 13-seeded North Texas State. 

 

Said FAU’s Demetre Roberts, 20 inches than Edey: “We knew they would throw multiple punches, and we just threw some back. We knew what type of game this was.”

This is the first season under Knights head coach Tobin Anderson, and he was concerned over a remark he made before the game in the locker room. 

 

“If we played them 100 times,” he said, “they’d probably beat us 99 times, but I told my players that I felt we could handle Edey and company. Wishful thinking, and it worked. We had a camera in our locker room and who knows if my remark got back to Purdue.” 

 

But his team did do its part to gain the second round. It held the Boilermakers scoreless for more than 5 and a-half minutes and went in front by five after Moore’s bucket from beyond the arc. 

 

The Knights weren’t on any kind of mission. Last season, they went 4-22 and hired Anderson in May following the program’s second worst record in 58 years on the court. He had previously coached at Division II power St. Thomas Aquinas. 

 

He sat the bench pouring confidence to rally his troops despite being outsized on the court, and in the stands a boisterous Purdue group gave its fans a homecourt advantage despite being 240 miles from its West Lafayette, Ind., campus. 

 

But when Fairleigh Dickinson’s Joe Munden tossed in a step-back 3 in the first half, “F-D-U” chants broke out inside the arena, and it became obvious this underdog small team had big dreams. It was up 32-31 at halftime behind 10 points from Roberts.

 

Now if the Knights can get past FAU on Sunday, they would move into the Sweet 16 berth and a trip to Madison Square Garden, just a short drive from the private school’s campus. Its hoops program has this team in Division I and another in Division III. 

 

“Man, I can’t believe it,” said Moore. “I’m still in shock right now. I can’t believe it. It’s crazy. But it feels amazing.”

 

That it is. 

It was also a good day for New Jersey’s Princeton when its men’s and women’s teams emerged victorious.

The men, seeded 15th and now 22-8, eliminated No. 2 Arizona, and the 10th-seeded, 19-8 Tigers’ women edged No. 7 North Carolina State in the final seconds.

 

The Princeton men now take on No. 7 Missouri (25-9), the women go against No. 2 Utah, which is 27-4, and the next challenge for 21-15 Fairleigh Dickinson is versus No. 9 Florida Atlantic (32-3) of Boca Raton after the No. 8 Owls got past No. 9 Memphis. 

And across the Hudson in another women’s contest, St. John’s represented the borough of Queens by squeezing past Purdue on a buzzer-beater in a matchup of No. 11 seeds. The Red Storm improved to 21-13 and next plays No. 6 North Carolina (22-8).

 

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