Fairleigh Dickinson became the second No. 16 seed in history to win an NCAA Tournament game, stunning top-seeded Purdue 63-58 behind 19 points from Sean Moore and a relentless, hustling defense on Friday night.
The shortest team in the tourney, the Knights (21-15) showed no fear in swarming 7-foot-4 All-America center Zach Edey from the start. FDU’s players were quicker and more composed than the Big Ten champion Boilermakers (29-6).
Five years ago, UMBC showed the way for the little guys by overwhelming Virginia in the first 16-over-1 victory after numerous close calls over the years. Still, No. 16s had a 1-150 record before FDU’s shocker.
After the final horn, FDU’s players mobbed each other on the floor of Nationwide Arena, where the fans from Memphis and Florida Atlantic who were waiting for the day’s final game joined forces in cheering on the Knights in the final, frantic minutes.
The Knights will now meet the Memphis-FAU winner on Sunday for a Sweet 16 berth and a trip next week to play at Madison Square Garden in New York – just a short drive from the private school’s campus in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Fairleigh Dickinson didn’t even win the Northeast Conference Tournament, falling by one point in the title game to Merrimack, which couldn’t participate in the NCAA Tournament because of an NCAA rule that bars it from the postseason because it’s still completing its four-year transition from Division II.
“The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them,” Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Tobin Anderson told his team on Wednesday night after defeating Texas Southern 84-61 in the First Four to earn the matchup with Purdue.
FDU held Purdue scoreless for more than 5 1/2 minutes down the stretch and moved ahead by five on a 3-pointer by Moore with 1:03 left. The Knights held on from there, becoming the second straight double-digit seed to send the Boilermakers home. Purdue was a 3 seed when it lost to 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the Sweet 16 last year.
ESPN also noted that the Fairleigh Dickinson win meant that of the approximately 20 million brackets filled out for its annual Tournament Challenge, zero perfect brackets remained in play.
This was Anderson’s first season at the school, and after he landed the job in May, he held a practice the first night just so he knew what he had to work with from a team that had the second-worst record in the program’s 58-year history.
It wasn’t a lot, so he brought three players — 5-foot-8 Demetre Roberts, Grant Singleton and Moore — along with him from Division II power St. Thomas Aquinas.
Turns out, they’re giant slayers.
And it was the Boilermakers, not the undersized Knights, who were scrambling from the opening tip.
Purdue may have had Fairleigh Dickinson outsized on the floor and in the stands as a boisterous group of Boilermakers fans gave their team what felt like a home-court advantage despite being 240 miles from West Lafayette, Indiana.
However, when the Knights’ Joe Munden drained a step-back 3-pointer in the first half, “F-D-U!” chants broke out inside the arena and it became obvious this small team had big dreams.
Without a player on its roster taller than 6-foot-6, Fairleigh Dickinson sometimes needed two players to guard Edey — one in front and one behind — and he missed his first three shots before a dunk.
Edey showed some frustration and at one point told one of the officials, “Sir, he’s holding my left arm.”
Just being in the tourney was quite an accomplishment for FDU, which went 4-22 a year ago.