COLUMBUS, Ohio – No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson, the lowest team in men’s college basketball, defeated top seed Purdue and their masterful big man Zach Edey on Friday, delivering a shocking upset in the NCAA tournament that epitomized the tradition. of the March Madness underdogs.
The game set off scenes of euphoria and stupor at Nationwide Arena, the home of the NHL’s Blue Jackets, where thousands of Purdue fans from across the Indiana border thronged waiting for their Big Ten championship-winning team to begin a long march to victory. Final Four.
Instead, when the final buzzer rang, Fairleigh Dickinson’s players ran to half the pitch, yelling wildly and scrumbling in front of their fans, who wielded cell phone cameras to record the most outstanding victory in the athletic history of the school. Coaches and team employees jumped into each other’s arms. Much of the crowd remained on their feet, gaping at the scene.
“I can’t even explain it. I’m in shock right now,” said Sean Moore, a junior forward who led Fairleigh Dickinson with 19 points, after the game was final, with his team leading, 63-58. “I can not believe it”.
The victory was only the second time a men’s No. 16 seed had defeated a No. 1 in the single-elimination tournament, after University of Maryland, Baltimore County beat Virginia in 2018 in a 20-point win. On the women’s side, No. 16 seed Harvard defeated No. 1 Stanford in the 1998 tournament.
FDU, located in Teaneck, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Upper Manhattan, had never advanced to the second round of the tournament before Friday. The Knights had to defeat Texas Southern on Wednesday in a play-in game only for the right to play Purdue, which had just won the Big Ten tournament on Sunday.
“If we played them 100 times, they would probably beat us 99 times,” Tobin Anderson, FDU’s first-year coach, said after the game. His team, short, young and trailing 23 points, “had to be unique,” he said. “We had to be unorthodox.”
Purdue struggled in virtually every aspect of the game. Normally sharp from long range, the Boilermakers shot below 20 percent from 3-point range. And while outrebounding their shorter opponent, FDU grabbed 11 critical offensive rebounds, slowing Purdue’s momentum as it tried to regain control.
Purdue frequently let FDU’s rotation of short guards, who drifted in and out of the game like a hockey team, slide around the screens for easy viewing of the basket. Still, FDU, which led for most of the game, was inconsistent, shooting less than 40 percent.
But their defense, including regular full-court pressures and Edey’s double-teaming, baffled Purdue’s elaborately crafted offense, which runs more than 250 snaps.
“A lot of times they had a guy guarding from behind and a guy basically sitting on my lap,” Edey, the likely national player of the year, said after the game, frustrated. He finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds, a typically dominant stat that felt meaningless on Friday night.
“It hurts,” said Matt Painter, Purdue’s coach since 2005. “They played better than us,” he added. “They trained better than us.”
“They were fabulous,” Painter said.
This was the third straight year that Purdue had lost to a double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament, a sign that Friday’s loss may not have been entirely a fluke. But their loss to the FDU represented the most serious failure so far for a system that gives priority to unannounced local recruits without the NBA hype of top players drawn to other college basketball powerhouses. Focused on player development for several years, Purdue has mostly rejected the transfer portal that other major programs have negotiated to deepen their rosters.
That idea has been a stubborn source of pride for Painter, who has reached the round of 16 six times but never advanced to the Final Four. His team this season, he said Friday, had “done things the right way.”
After seven total weeks ranked as the best team in the nation this season, the second year in a row the program had reached that top spot, the Purdue players believed they were positioned to win the national championship. Mason Gillis, a starting forward, said the same thing Thursday as his team prepared for FDU. “We’ve got the pieces,” he said confidently.
FDU is one of the most unlikely hits in college basketball. It is the shortest team in Division I (363 of 363 teams) averaging just 6-foot-1. Nearly every player at Purdue had a substantial height advantage, including Edey, who regularly guarded a player a foot shorter .
FDU finished 4-22 last season and was picked to finish sixth in their conference’s preseason coaches’ poll. He rebounded with 20 wins this season. The Knights claimed the automatic bid to the Northeast Conference, but did not actually win their conference tournament. They lost in the final against Merrimackwhich is in transition from Division II and is ineligible for the NCAA tournament.
Anderson, the FDU coach, had warned at a postgame celebration after their victory on Wednesday that his team could face Purdue, a confidence that rankled at Purdue before the matchup. “The more I see Purdue, the more I think we can beat them,” Anderson said in the team locker room after Wednesday’s game.
He said Friday that he felt bad about the perceived slight. But his players suggested that his coach be validated. “We show why we belong here,” Demetre Roberts, a 5-foot-8 guard who ran around Purdue’s tallest guards on his way to 12 key points.
“We all have a chip on our shoulders,” Anderson said.
Just a year ago, Anderson was the head coach at St. Thomas Aquinas, a Division II school in Sparkill, NY, where he coached Moore. Anderson was a “grinder,” Painter said admiringly after Friday’s upset.
Purdue fans greatly outnumbered the FDU supporters, filling the arena with noise as their mascot, Purdue Pete, paraded across the field to cheer on the school’s many supporters. But as the game progressed, with FDU keeping him close, chants of “FDU” began to ring out from both the Knights’ modest contingent of fans and supporters of Memphis and Florida Atlantic, teams that would play on the same court later. . Friday night.
Purdue seemed to get the game back in the first 10 minutes of the second half, when it leaned heavily on Edey, who frequently hit grabbing balls to teammates like a volleyball player.
Anderson outlined the recipe for neutralizing Edey: stifle his teammates. Edey, Anderson noted, performs equally well in Purdue’s wins and losses. The difference, he said, was containing the talented group of players around Edey as they shot from deep or cut to the rim when Edey was double-teamed or triple-teamed. When Edey’s supporting cast struggles, his team struggles, Anderson said.
Edey made several emphatic dunks in the second half as he worked to take control of the game, roaring after takedowns. The Boilermakers got a 6 point lead that could have been insurmountable. The apprehensive looks that the Purdue coaches had given each other seemed to ease.
But fearless and relentless FDU scored 8 unanswered points to regain control. The rest of the game was a nervous back and forth, the score mostly within a single possession. Fletcher Loyer, a freshman guard from Purdue, hit two critical 3-point shots to keep him close. Moore responded with his own 3-pointer from him with just over a minute to go, effectively sealing his team’s lead.
Painter said his team was unable to refocus because they shot poorly and struggled to break free of FDU’s defensive traps. “When people push you like that, you have to go for layups,” he said. “You have to get wide shots.”
It seemed to have absorbed the shock waves that Purdue’s loss had sent through the tournament: More than 96 percent of fans had picked Purdue to win this game in ESPN’s support contests, and zero perfect male brackets left on site after Friday night.
You will be ridiculed. You’ll be embarrassed,” Painter said. “It’s basketball.”
Purdue had a chance to tie the game with less than 10 seconds to go. But FDU put up one final stand from their fierce defense, trapping Loyer, who attempted a desperate shot and missed badly as Edey watched from the low post.
Loyer sat alone at his locker after the game, staring straight ahead in a daze. It was the kind of shot he had dreamed of making, he said.
Billy Witz contributed reporting.