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March Madness: No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson shocks No. 1 Purdue

FDU is the second No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 in the first round of the men's NCAA tournament

UMBC has company.

Fairleigh Dickinson joined the Retrievers in NCAA tournament lore and became the second No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 in the first round when it took down Purdue 63-58 Friday night.

The Knights simply outplayed Purdue in the second half as no one other than Zach Edey was able to do much of anything for Purdue. And even Edey had two key turnovers 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. That gave the Knights a 61-56 lead and was Moore’s ninth consecutive point for FDU.

Purdue then had the ball with 30 seconds left down three but Moore blocked a layup attempt and a Fletcher Loyer 3-point attempt with under 10 seconds left didn't hit the rim.

UMBC — the University of Maryland-Baltimore County — became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 in 2018 when it defeated Virginia. And FDU’s upset may be even bigger than UMBC’s. The Retrievers were a 20.5-point underdog ahead of the game against Virginia and FDU was a 23.5-point underdog against the Boilermakers.

It’s also the second straight tournament loss for Purdue against a low-seeded team from New Jersey. The Boilermakers lost to No. 15 seed St. Peter’s in the Sweet 16 as a No. 3 seed a year ago. And the year before that, Purdue lost 78-69 to No. 13 North Texas as a No. 4 seed. The Boilermakers have lost their last three tournament games to low-seeded teams since making the Elite Eight in 2019.

FDU controlled the last eight minutes

UMBC blew out Virginia, 74-54, in its historic upset. This game was clearly not a blowout. But it was also clear that one of the shortest teams in the country wasn’t overmatched against the team with the best big man in the country.

Edey stands 10 inches taller than the tallest player in FDU’s starting lineup, And Purdue out-rebounded the Knights by 10. But it was clear to anyone watching the game that FDU wasn’t afraid to battle inside with the Boilermakers and it was unafraid to try to rip the ball from Edey’s hands.

Edey inexplicably had just 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 the Purdue roster shot a combined 12 of 41 as the Boilermakers finished just 36% from the field as a team.

Purdue had a hard time making a 3-pointer too. Lower was 3 of 8 from behind the arc while the rest of the team was 2 of 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 over the last eight minutes of the game.

Did Tobin Anderson call his shot?

In addition to becoming the second No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1, FDU also became the first team to beat a No. 1 after playing in a play-in game earlier in the week. The Knights easily beat Texas Southern for the right to play Purdue and coach Tobin Anderson exuded confidence after that 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 the Purdue win that he wasn’t intending his speech to go to a bigger audience than his team, but his team played with the confidence that he showed after that win Tuesday night.

FDU didn’t even win its conference tournament

Most teams in Fairleigh Dickinson’s situation have to win their conference tournaments to get into the NCAA tournament. Yet FDU got a matchup against Texas Southern in the play-in game simply by making its conference tournament title game.

FDU lost 67-66 to Merrimack in the Northeast Conference title game on March 7. But the Knights entered 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 the NCAA’s outdated rules prevent a team moving up from qualifying for the NCAA tournament for four seasons. Since Merrimack was ineligible to make the tournament, FDU was the recipient of the NEC’s only bid.

Conference tournament title or not, the turnaround FDU has made from 2021-22 to this season has been remarkable. The Knights were just 4-22 a season ago and parted ways with longtime coach Greg Herenda. The school hired Anderson from Division II St. Thomas Aquinas and the Knights went 20-15 in the regular season.

Anderson brought numerous transfers with him, too, and they were the difference against Purdue. Moore, Demetre Roberts and Grant Singleton 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 miss to ice the game.