Fairleigh Dickinson became the second No. 16 seed in history to win an NCAA Tournament game, defeating top seed Purdue 63-58 behind 19-point Sean Moore and a relentless, rushing defense on Friday night. .
The shortest team in the tournament, the Knights (21-15) showed no fear attacking 7-foot-4 All-America center Zach Edey early on. The FDU players were quicker and more composed than the Big Ten champion Boilermakers (29-6).
Five years ago, UMBC led the way for the little guys by overwhelming Virginia in the first 16-on-1 victory after numerous close encounters over the years. Still, the No. 16s had a 1-150 record against the No. 1s and were 1-151 overall before the FDU upset.
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After the final buzzer, FDU players piled onto the floor of Nationwide Arena, where fans from Memphis and Florida Atlantic joined forces to cheer on the Knights in the final minutes.
Fairleigh Dickinson didn’t even win the Northeast Conference Tournament, falling by one point in the title game to Merrimack, who was unable to make the NCAA Tournament due to an NCAA rule that bars him from the postseason because he is still completing his four. Division II transition year.
FDU held Purdue scoreless for more than 5 1/2 minutes down the stretch and moved five points on a 3-pointer by Moore, who is from suburban Columbus, with 1:03 to play. The Knights held on from there, becoming the second consecutive double-digit seed to send the Boilermakers home. Purdue was a 3 seed when it lost to 15 seed Saint Peter’s, another small New Jersey school, in the Sweet 16 last year.
Edey finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds in what could have been his last college game, but he was consistently denied the ball by the Knights down the stretch. He didn’t attempt a shot in the last nine minutes. The junior center is a potential NBA lottery pick, but the bitterness of this loss could influence him to stick around for another year.
The Knights’ previous two NCAA Tournament victories have come in the Top Four, including this year, when they defeated Texas Southern 84-61. After that game, Knights coach Tobin Anderson told his players that he believed they could handle Edey and Co.
“The more I see Purdue, the more I think we can beat them,” Anderson told his players in the locker room.
Some of the Purdue players said they felt disrespected by the comments, which turned out to be prescient.
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The Knights will now meet the winner of the Memphis-Florida Atlantic on Sunday for a ticket to the Sweet 16 and a trip to play at Madison Square Garden in New York next week, a short drive from the private school’s campus in Teaneck, New Jersey.