College Hoops

How Fairleigh Dickinson toppled Purdue with a perfect game plan and ‘a chip on our shoulder’

Michael Cohen

COLUMBUS, Ohio โ€” Tobin Anderson needed water, pleaded for it, screamed three times in the general direction of anyone who might be listening amid the sweat-soaked fray. Chaos swirled around him near the doorway to a rapturous locker room in the underbelly of Nationwide Arena: the inside noise reverberating from Anderson’s undersized band of killers who slayed a literal and metaphorical giant to reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament; the outside noise whirring from a hive of support staffers, school administrators and social media creators who never dreamed they’d have material this rich.

Only once in history had a No. 16 scoffed away the odds to undercut whichever member of college basketball’s elite was perched neatly atop its quadrant, a statistical impossibility until 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 through the halcyon days of invincibility like shrapnel. A five-year reprieve evaporated at 9:08 on Friday evening when 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson besieged Purdue and its mountainous center, Zach Edey, with a tempest of speed and swagger and suffocating defense in a 63-58 win that bounced the Boilermakers in embarrassing fashion for a second consecutive season.

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

“What a night,” Anderson said at the postgame news conference, his thirst finally quenched by an energy 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 โ€” it just happened, right?”

It certainly did.

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

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When it finally ended, after the game-clinching free throws from Ansley Almonor sparked a building-wide F-D-U chant, after the visiting bench erupted as the buzzer sounded and the Boilermakers had slunk down the tunnel, after a joyous collection of Knights plastered their school’s placard into the second round of a life-sized bracket, the whiteboards told the story of a night neither team will ever forget.

In Purdue’s locker room, where reddened eyes and hushed voices captured the pain of a magical season gone awry, a…

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