March Madness: FDU basketball wins in First Four; Purdue next


According to the metrics, Fairleigh Dickinson was the worst basketball team in the NCAA Tournament.  

As the Knights showed everyone Wednesday, metrics don’t measure heart.

In a master class of offensive execution, buttressed by more than a touch of moxie, FDU waxed fellow No. 16 seed Texas Southern 84-61 in Dayton to earn a date with East Region No. 1 seed Purdue in Friday’s Round of 64.

“Really proud of how we played,” Knights head coach Tobin Anderson said. “I knew we wouldn’t be in awe of this environment.”

Sophomore center Ansley Almonor chalked up 23 points and eight rebounds to pace a balance effort by the Knights, who spread the floor, pushed the rock and shot the lights out. And so the smallest team in all of Division 1, with an average height of 6-foot-1, will take on Big Ten champion Purdue Friday, 6:50 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio (TNT).

It’s literally David vs. Goliath. Boilermakers center Zach Edey, the national player of the year, stands 7-foot-4 – a whopping 11 inches taller than Almonor, an alum of St. Joseph-Montvale High School.

“I never met anybody who’s 7-4; I’ll have to see it on Friday,” Almonor said. “I’ll try to get into his legs a little bit, because tall guys don’t like it when people get into their legs.”

This is the seventh NCAA Tournament appearance for the FDU, whose lone victory came in the 2019 First Four.

“We take a lot of pride in playing for Jersey,” Almonor said. “There’s only two teams in the tournament (from New Jersey, Princeton being the other). We knew that coming in, so we wanted to get a win and put on for the state because basketball’s really big in our area.”


1. Size doesn’t matter

Almonor was the difference-maker as FDU broke things open early, hitting two 3-pointers and forcing Texas Southern’s center to vacate the paint, opening driving lanes galore for the Knights.

“That helped my confidence a little bit, and their defense had to change what they were doing,” Almonor said.

In the end, after all the talk about size, FDU outrebounded Texas Southern 32-30.

2. Joe Munden’s moment

The junior guard opted to stay through the coaching transition, even as the newly hired Anderson brought three guards with him from St. Thomas Aquinas College, and his loyalty was richly rewarded. After playing a complementary role all season, Munden busted out with 17 points, four rebounds and three steals against Texas Southern.

If someone had told him this was possible after finishing 4-22 last winter, Munden said, “I wouldn’t have believed you.”

3. Coaching clinic

One year ago, Tobin Anderson was coaching on the Division 2 level, in a gym smaller than the First Four media room. But he was a prolific winner at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, N.Y., and his scheme totally flummoxed Texas Southern, which was slow to switch to smaller and quicker personnel.

4. Proved they belonged

The Knights were highly motivated to show they belong in the field of 68 after finishing second in the NEC and the NEC Tournament, qualifying for March Madness because champion Merrimack is ineligible as a transitional D-1 program. But with guards Demetre Roberts (15 points, 4 assists), Grant Singleton (13 points, 6 assists) and Sean Moore (10 points) all coming over from St. Thomas Aquinas with Anderson, they’ve been correcting doubters all season. Case closed now, because there is nothing more validating than advancing in the Dance.

5. Load the slingshot

Can FDU (20-15) channel fellow North Jersey program Saint Peter’s and achieve a historic upset Friday? Purdue (29-5) towered over the Peacocks in last year’s Sweet 16, and look how that turned out. Make your threes and hope for some March magic. We’ve seen that movie before.

“We have two choices: one you go home, two you go and play Purdue,” Anderson said. “We’re going to play Purdue.”

Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at

Latest news
Related news