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Fairleigh Dickinson Wasn’t Even Supposed to Be in the NCAA Tournament. Here’s How They Beat Purdue

4 minute read

New Jersey has put its stamp on March.

Fairleigh Dickinson University, a private commuter school near the George Washington Bridge in Teaneck, N.J., on Friday became just the second No. 16-seed in history to win a game in the men’s NCAA tournament. The Knights knocked off the No. 1-seed Purdue Boilermakers, 63-58 on Friday in Columbus, Ohio. Fairleigh Dickinson’s victory comes five years after No. 16 UMBC dominated the top overall seed in the tournament, Virginia, 74-54. Before Friday, No. 16 seeds were 1-150 all-time against top-seeded teams since the men’s field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

The state of New Jersey is continuing its magical NCAA tournament run these past few years. A season ago St. Peter’s, another commuter school in the northern part of the state, made the Elite Eight—the first No. 15-seed to do so—before losing to North Carolina. (They also managed to knock No. 3-seed Purdue out of the tournament.) On Thursday, No. 15 Princeton shocked Arizona, 55-51, in a first-round upset.

And now, FDU joins the Tigers as the toasts of the Garden State.

Say what you will about the NCAA, but it generally seeds its men’s basketball tournament well. The dominance of the No. 1-seeds over the past 38 years bears that out. So when a team like FDU rises to the occasion, it counts as a monumental moment in college basketball—and in all sports.

Fairleigh Dickinson—which has about 6,500 students on its main campus—has the shortest team in Division 1 basketball, with its players averaging 6’1” in height. Purdue’s All-American center, 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, had a fine game—scoring 24 points and grabbing 15-rebounds—but he turned the ball over late in the game, with under two minutes left, after three Knights collapsed on him in the post.

READ MORE: How Howard University Finally Made It Back to March Madness

FDU’s Sean Moore, a Columbus native, scored a layup to give FDU a five-point lead, 58-53. Moore also nailed a huge straight-away three pointer on the next possession. Purdue had an opportunity to tie the game a late-three pointer, but Fletcher Lloyd threw up an air-ball from the corner, after being contested by an FDU defender. Demetre Robbins, who is 5’8”, grabbed the game-sealing rebound.

The Knights refused to be intimidated by Purdue’s size and pedigree. A zone defense from the smaller FDU team seemed to confound Purdue’s players. The Boilermakers, despite being coached by the seasoned Matt Painter, were out of rhythm, as they seemed to spend a lot of time looking into Edey, who was double and triple-teamed. They had little to know flow. Purdue, despite often suiting up some of the top-ranked teams in the country over the past four decades, hasn’t made a Final Four since 1980.

A year ago, FDU coach Tobin Anderson was coaching at tiny St. Thomas Aquinas College, in Division II, a 2,000-student school in New York’s Rockland County. Moore was one his players there. Fairleigh Dickinson finished last season 4-22, fired coach Greg Hernenda, and took a chance on Anderson. Moore came with him. One final twist: FDU wasn’t even supposed to be in the tournament; the Knights lost to Merrimack College in the Northeast Conference Tournament on March 7. But Merrimack isn’t eligible to play in the NCAA tournament this year, so FDU got a shot.

Now, Moore and Anderson are both preparing for a second round March Madness game against the winner of Memphis and FAU.

Fairleigh Dickinson plays on. It’s the beauty of March.

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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com