Move over, Virginia.
The greatest upset in NCAA men’s tournament has company. Five years after the Cavaliers were knocked off in the first round by Maryland-Baltimore County, No. 1 Purdue lost 63-58 to Fairleigh Dickinson to become the second top seed to lose to a No. 16 seed since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. With the win, No. 16 seeds move to 2-150 in the first round of tournament play during that span.
“What a night,” Fairleigh Dickson coach Tobin Anderson said. “Incredible win for us. Incredible win for our program, our school. Hard to put it in words right now. Honestly, it’s really hard to even — it just happened, right?”
The automatic bid out of the Northeast Conference, FDU was able to battle the Boilermakers to a draw in the paint despite a mammoth size disadvantage. Anchored by 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey, Purdue entered the tournament ranked 22nd in Division I in overall rebounds per game and 29th in offensive rebounds per game.
FDU is the shortest team in Division I at an average height of 6-foot-3, with 6-foot-6 freshman Jo’el Emanuel the tallest player in the Knights’ rotation.
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After Purdue went on a 12-0 run to go up 47-41 with under 12 minutes left, the Knights began chipping away behind forward Sean Moore, who finished with 19 points, 14 coming in the second half.
With the Knights up 56-53 with 1:39 left, Moore stole the ball from Edey and converted a fast-break layup. After the Boilermakers responded with a 3-pointer, Moore hit from deep on the ensuing FDU possession to make it a 61-56 game with a minute left.
With Purdue trailing 61-58 with seconds left, guard Fletcher Loyer’s corner three missed and was rebounded by FDU, which was fouled and made both free throws to secure the historic upset.
“Our job was just to come into the game and, like I said, throw a punch,” Knights guard Demetre Roberts said. “We knew they would throw multiple punches. Just throw a punch back. We knew what type of game this was.
“And, man, it was a game of runs. And we showed why we belong here. Credit to Purdue, but we do what we have to do and now we on to the next one.”
The Big Ten regular season and conference tournament champions, the Boilermakers struggled to find secondary production alongside Edey, who finished with a game-high 21 points and 15 rebounds.
While Edey shot 7 of 11 from the floor, the rest of Purdue combined to hit just 12 of 41 attempts. That included 5 of 26 from 3-point range.
“In their wins and their losses (Edey’s) averaging the same amount of points,” Anderson said. “It’s like 24 on their wins and 23 on their losses.”If you look at wins and losses it’s the other guys around him, in their losses those guys don’t play well. In their wins, those guys play well.”
This marks the second year in a row that Purdue has been shocked by a double-digit seed, and more specifically to an underdog from New Jersey. The Boilermakers lost in last season’s Sweet 16 to No. 15 Saint Peter’s, which nearly became the highest seed to ever reach the Final Four.
But while last year’s loss helped drive Purdue to one of the most successful regular seasons in program history, Friday’s loss to FDU will linger in tournament history and come to define the program’s March struggles under coach Matt Painter.
Purdue has reached the tournament in all but three seasons since Painter took over in 2005. He’s won 413 games, second-most in program history, but has advanced past the Sweet 16 just once and has yet to reach the Final Four. As a program, the Boilermakers haven’t made the Final Four since 1980.
“It’s hard,” Painter said. “It’s a really hard thing. We worked very hard and done things the right way in our program. And I think six straight years we’ve been a top 5 seed. And that’s all you try to do. You just try to fight to get in the best position possible.
“And now we get in the best position possible and this happens. And obviously it hurts. It hurts bad.”
The Knights finished tied for second in the NEC during the regular season and lost in the conference championship game to Merrimack. But FDU earned the league’s bid on a technicality, because Merrimack’s program is ineligible for postseason play while making the transition from Division II.