How Fairleigh Dickinson toppled Purdue with an ideal sport plan and ‘a chip on our shoulder’

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tobin Anderson wanted water, pleaded for it, screamed thrice within the basic route of anybody who could be listening amid the sweat-soaked fray. Chaos swirled round him close to the doorway to a rapturous locker room within the underbelly of Nationwide Arena: the within noise reverberating from Anderson’s undersized band of killers who slayed a literal and metaphorical large to achieve the second spherical of the NCAA Tournament; the surface noise whirring from a hive of assist staffers, faculty directors and social media creators who by no means dreamed they’d have materials this wealthy.

Only as soon as in historical past had a No. 16 scoffed away the percentages to undercut whichever member of faculty basketball’s elite was perched neatly atop its quadrant, a statistical impossibility till the University of Maryland-Baltimore County throttled top-seeded Virginia by 20 in 2018, the deluge of 3-pointers from a search engine sweetheart tearing by the halcyon days of invincibility like shrapnel. A five-year reprieve evaporated at 9:08 on Friday night when Sixteenth-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson besieged Purdue and its mountainous middle, Zach Edey, with a tempest of velocity and swagger and suffocating protection in a 63-58 win that bounced the Boilermakers in embarrassing vogue for a second consecutive season.

If final 12 months’s loss to No. 15 Saint Peter’s was a blip, then this 12 months’s misstep in opposition to the Knights plunged head coach Matt Painter to his nadir. Goliath was felled. David strikes on to face No. 9 Florida Atlantic at 7:45 p.m. EST on Sunday.

“What a night,” Anderson mentioned on the postgame information convention, his thirst lastly quenched by an vitality drink. “Incredible win for us. Incredible win for our program, our school. Hard to put it into words right now, honestly. It’s hard to even — it just happened, right?”

It actually did.

[FDU coach on upset: ‘Did we really just do this?’]

*** *** ***

When it lastly ended, after the game-clinching free throws from Ansley Almonor sparked a building-wide F-D-U chant, after the visiting bench erupted because the buzzer sounded and the Boilermakers had slunk down the tunnel, after a joyous assortment of Knights plastered their faculty’s placard into the second spherical of a life-sized bracket, the whiteboards advised the story of an evening neither group will ever overlook.

In Purdue’s locker room, the place reddened eyes and hushed voices captured the ache of a magical season gone awry, a two-foot chunk of the group’s dry-erase board was lacking, its floor ruptured by somebody’s offended hand or fist. And within the Fairleigh Dickinson locker room, the place guards Grant Singleton and Joe Munden Jr. watched dozens of congratulatory messages flood their cell telephones, a message in blueish-greenish marker was nonetheless seen from Anderson’s pre-game speech.

“Play to Win,” it mentioned, and every phrase was underlined to additional emphasize the purpose.

Almost no one anticipated the Knights to win. These 4 days in Columbus have been alleged to belong to Purdue, a No. 1 seed whose reward for securing each the Big Ten regular-season title and the Big Ten Tournament title was the prospect to play its first- and second-round video games fewer than 250 miles from residence. The Boilermakers had one of many nation’s greatest gamers in Edey, a consensus All-American. They have been led by one of many sport’s most well-respected coaches in Painter, a person who’s gained 68% of his video games throughout 18 seasons at his alma mater. Together they claimed to be fueled by the stomach-churning classes gleaned from a disillusioning loss to Saint Peter’s that perpetually fused Purdue to one of many all-time Cinderella tales. The greatest problem, Painter mentioned, was accepting how a lot more durable the Peacocks had performed after which guaranteeing it by no means occurred once more.

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Even Anderson acknowledged at the least a sliver of doubt when requested a few locker-room video that went viral after FDU beat Texas Southern on the First Four in Dayton earlier this week. The recording captured Anderson assuring his gamers that the extra he watched Purdue on movie, the extra he believed the Knights might beat them.

“I’m not sure how much I meant it,” Anderson mentioned on Friday after upending the Boilermakers. “I wanted our guys to believe.”

[March Madness upset tracker: How far can Fairleigh Dickinson go?]

He needed them to imagine the identical method they’d for months, all season, actually, for the reason that day Anderson, then 50 years previous, was employed at Fairleigh Dickinson on May 3, 2022. Anderson had earned the respect of his teaching friends — Painter included — for grinding his method from one rung of the school basketball ladder to the following. From stints as a low-level assistant for colleges most individuals have by no means heard of to his first head-coaching gigs at Division III colleges Clarkson (66-67 total from 1999-2004) and Hamilton (118-63 total from 2004-11). From a nine-year run at Division II St. Thomas Aquinas (209-62 total from 2013-22) to the primary Division I job of his profession for an FDU program that reached the NCAA Tournament six occasions between 1985 and 2019 however by no means superior past the Round of 64.

To fill his roster, Anderson introduced three gamers with him from St. Thomas Aquinas and entrusted them with cornerstone roles regardless of the numerous leap in competitors. He needed Singleton, level guard Demetre Roberts and ahead Sean Moore to imagine of their skills the identical method they’d in opposition to Division II opponents, even when Fairleigh Dickinson was the smallest group within the nation with a median top of 73.4 inches. He preached scheme over measurement, coronary heart over top, and his trio of transfers responded by scoring 39 of the group’s 63 factors in opposition to Purdue, together with 9 straight to finish the sport.

“At the beginning of the season, nobody probably thought we was going to get here,” Singleton mentioned. “New coach, new system, new players, you know, they thought it would take a while, probably take two or three years. But we always had the confidence that, you know, the first year we come in, we could make a run. It was very, very special.”

*** *** ***

Of course, Fairleigh Dickinson’s run from Dayton to Columbus comes with an uncommon asterisk. The Knights entered the Northeast Conference Tournament seeded second and superior to the title sport in opposition to Merrimack, the league’s regular-season champion. FDU misplaced, 67-66, however nonetheless acquired the NEC’s computerized bid as a result of the Warriors, who elevated to Division I forward of the 2019-20 season, have been within the fourth and ultimate 12 months of what the NCAA describes as a “transition period” throughout which groups can not compete for NCAA championships.

“We all have a chip on our shoulder,” Anderson mentioned. “People say we shouldn’t be here, we shouldn’t be in the tournament — all that kind of stuff we have to listen to. We want to prove people wrong. I think people see now that we do belong.”

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That they belonged in the identical universe as Purdue was something however apparent when Edey, the 7-foot-4, 305-pound colossus entered the middle circle for the opening faucet. He dwarfed the person throughout from him — Almonor, a pseudo middle for the Knights — by 10 inches and 86 kilos. When raised, his elbow shared an altitude with Almonor’s brow.

But as Anderson studied movie of Purdue, he was reminded of one thing his father usually talked about whereas watching boxing. “Styles make fights,” Anderson remembered him saying, and the stylistic variations between Purdue, which ranks 323rd nationally in tempo, and Fairleigh Dickinson, which distresses opponents with its havoc-inducing protection, have been huge. Nearly all the pieces FDU does effectively was a possible irritant to Painters’ extra regimented, extra formulaic offensive method.

They descended on Edey from all angles, buzzing Purdue’s main scorer and rebounder with wave after wave of ball-hawking defenders. There have been possessions when Fairleigh Dickinson fronted Edey within the publish and others when the first defender performed behind him. They alternated between doubling Edey earlier than an entry move was thrown and collapsing as quickly because the ball entered the paint. They shuffled defenses from man to zone to some hybrid concoctions that took the Boilermakers time to decipher. So thick and invasive was the undersized swarm that Edey, who labored his approach to 21 factors and 15 rebounds, would have been forgiven if he’d misplaced his cool and swatted somebody apart.

[Purdue shocked by FDU, biggest sports betting upset in tournament history]

“A lot of times they would have one dude guarding from behind and one dude basically sitting in my lap,” Edey mentioned. “They were full-fronting the entire game, made it very hard to get catches. They’d full-front and they would sit someone [else] underneath the rim, which makes it very hard to get catches and get into a flow and rhythm. Credit to them, they had a great game plan coming in and they executed it very well.”

Painter’s offense was additional eroded by a full-court press that devoured freshmen guards Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer, an oft-discussed potential weak point for a group with Final Four aspirations. Loyer’s incapability to deal with the ball saddled Smith with solo press-breaking duties. Time and once more Smith’s decision-making malfunctioned. He careened by double groups that poked the ball free for straightforward steals. He made ill-advised passes that have been tipped and deflected. An unflappable poise that made him probably the greatest level guards within the Big Ten leaked all around the courtroom as Smith dedicated a career-high seven turnovers — three greater than he had in another sport this season.

Edey’s gravitational pull on the protection afforded his teammates extra open 3s than they may deal with. Smith, Loyer and Mason Gillis mixed for 21 makes an attempt from 3-point vary — almost all of them in-rhythm, in keeping with Painter — however did not punish the Knights for daring them to shoot. Purdue missed 21 of the 26 photographs it tried past the arc in opposition to a protection ranked 353rd within the nation for effectivity.

Angst grew to become unrest after which unrest started to unravel. A easy move slipped by Brandon Newman’s arms and ricocheted off his head. Munden corralled the unfastened ball and soared to the ring for a standard three-point play. An straightforward rebound from a transition 3-pointer by Singleton caromed off the rim, smacked Edey within the face and landed out of bounds. When Gillis air-mailed a wide-open 3-pointer late within the second half, the assistant coach who referred to as the play, Terry Johnson, wiped his grease board clear in disgust.

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Purdue was on the verge of its fifth loss to a double-digit seed within the final 13 years.

“I think we got a little rattled,” Loyer mentioned. “We were a little panicked early on. But a game like that, you can’t be panicked. You’ve got to go out there and let them know who’s boss.”

*** *** ***

One-point sport. 54-53. Three minutes on the clock.

Plenty of time for somebody to indicate another person who’s boss.

All day, Anderson mentioned, family and friends members had been texting him video clips of speeches from the fabled sports activities movies “Miracle” and “Hoosiers” to gasoline the notion of a possible upset, to summon no matter 16-seed magic UMBC unlocked when it toppled Virginia in 2018. Anderson advised reporters if Fairleigh Dickinson and Purdue performed 100 occasions, the Boilermakers would in all probability win 99 of them. That’s how good Painter’s group was this season — although few individuals will see it that method now.

“Tonight’s the one we had to be unique,” Anderson mentioned. “We had to be unorthodox. We had to make it tough on them. Just be different.”

[2023 March Madness: Farleigh Dickinson’s upset of Purdue shocks the world]

Different appeared like Moore, a Columbus native, swiping the ball from Edey with 1:42 remaining and exploding to the opposite finish of the courtroom for a transition layup after a wonderful feed from Singleton. 58-53.

It appeared like an unconscionable pick-and-pop 3-pointer from Moore on the following possession — the ball inching over the outstretched arm of Edey — as one other move from Singleton created house on the high of the important thing. 61-53.

And it appeared like Anderson peeling himself away from his teaching employees’s embrace to shake arms with Painter, a person whose offseason is out of the blue in disarray. 63-58. Final.

“They played better than we did,” Painter mentioned. “They coached better than we did. And we have to sit in it. We gotta to face it. We’ve got to deal with it, and we’ve got to come back stronger. But that will take some time. That will take some time.”

Seven minutes after the upset, after the courtroom was cleared and the celebration roared into the FDU locker room, after drinks have been sprayed and the truth of Fairleigh Dickinson’s achievement started to set in, the unique large slayers posted a message on social media.

“WE HAVE A FRIEND NOW,” the official UMBC athletics account tweeted.

They actually do.

Michael Cohen covers faculty soccer and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13. 

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