Now the scene is set for an encore.
After shocking the college basketball world and destroying many brackets around the country, Fairleigh Dickinson will attempt to become the first No. 16 seed to reach the Sweet 16 when it plays No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic on Sunday in a second-round East Region contest at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
The winner will advance to the East Region semifinals to play fourth-seeded Tennessee on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Knights (21-15) beat the No. 1 East seed Purdue, 63-58, on Friday night to earn a matchup with FAU (32-3), which beat Memphis, 66-65, on a layup by Nick Boyd with 2.5 seconds remaining. Florida Atlantic’s 32 wins leads all Division I teams.
In 2018, when No. 16 University of Maryland Baltimore County stunned No. 1 Virginia, the Retrievers lost in the next round to Kansas State, 50-43.
The irony of FDU’s stunning upset is that — under normal circumstances — they would not have had the opportunity to make history.
The Knights lost their Northeast Conference tournament title game to Merrimack College, 67-66. But by virtue of an NCAA rule that requires schools to wait four years to compete in the Division I tournament, the conference’s automatic bid went to the runner-up Fairleigh Dickinson. Merrimack is in its fourth year of Division I competition and won’t be eligible until next season.
“They believe they should be out there,” FDU coach Tobin Anderson said of his players. “And it’s fun to be around these guys. We’re a little irritated. We all have a chip on our shoulder. 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.”
It’s been quite the homecoming for Knights guard Sean Moore. He is a native of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, just 20 miles east of the arena where he helped his school shock the sports world Friday night.
Moore scored a career-high 19 points and blocked a key shot in the closing seconds to help preserve the victory. Demetre Roberts was the only other FDU player in double figures Friday night, scoring 12 in the victory, their second in the tournament.
“I think people see now that we do belong,” Anderson added. “Here’s the thing, we’re getting better, too. We played really well these last two games. And that’s a credit to our guys. We’re definitely getting better. And that’s an exciting thing.”
FDU won’t be the only team coming off an historic win. The Owls won their first-ever NCAA tournament game in just their second try on Friday night, also in dramatic fashion.
Boyd’s drive to the basket for a game-winning layup to eliminate Memphis will long be remembered as one of the biggest moments in FAU athletics.
“I think it prepares us for the next game,” Boyd said. “I watched FDU. They’re physical, they trap, they run around. I feel like this road is — from the conference tournament to now, it just prepared us for all these games, just playing long, athletic teams.”
While Fairleigh Dickinson had just beaten Texas Southern two nights earlier in Dayton to record their second-ever tournament win, FAU fans had never enjoyed the taste of victory on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“Not really thinking about it at all,” Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May said. “All the focus is these guys enjoying the moment and moving, turn the page … and focus on FDU so we don’t leave an opportunity on the table.”
–Field Level Media