By Anthony Covino and Justin Rimpi
The Knights keep on rolling as they defeated Robert Morris 66-62 in the first game of the Northeast Conference tournament semifinals Saturday at the Rothman Center in Hackensack.
This is the Knights’ seventh consecutive win as they have gone 14-2 over their last 16 games.
The Rothman Center was electric all game. With an estimated attendance of 1,212, every FDU was on their feet cheering on the Knights.
From the cheers after every Knights basket and stellar defensive play, the crowd’s energy played a key factor in the win.
The Knights shot 19-38 (50 percent) from the field, 6-15 (40 percent) from three, and converted 22 out of 27 free throws (81.5 percent).
The Knights were paced by senior guard Darnell Edge who scored 20. Sophomore guard Jahlil Jenkins chipped in 18.
The Knights only went seven deep, and four Knights scored in double-figures. Freshmen guard Brandon Powell scored 11 and senior forward Michael Holloway Jr. scored 10.
Edge, Jenkins, Jones and Holloway Jr. scored 59 of the Knights’ 66 points.
“I think Brandon Powell may be the player of the game,” said head coach Greg Herenda. “A few weeks ago, he (Powell) was in the doghouse. I just told him he went from the doghouse to the penthouse. It was a team effort.”
Robert Morris shot 24-56 (42.9 percent) from the field, 8-21 from three (38.1 percent), and made 6 out of 8 free throws (75 percent).
Senior guard Marty McConnell led the Colonials with 22 points.
Sophomore forward Charles Bain scored 10, and was the only other Colonials player to score in double figures.
Robert Morris’s defense was giving the Knight’s offense fits during the first half.
Almost every offensive possession during the first five minutes of the game took the shot clock down all the way.
The Knights scored four points in the first six minutes of the game. Jenkins and Powell led the Knights with 7 points each in the first half.
The Knights led 28-26 at halftime.
“We were very fortunate to win the game,” said Herenda. “We just continued to play. They made it hard for Mike Holloway Jr. and Darnell Edge. They made it hard for our basketball team. I have the utmost respect for Robert Morris’s program.”
This is the first time the Knights have made it to the NEC tournament championship since 2015-2016 when they defeated Wagner.
“Now we’re very fortunate to go to a championship game again. It is very special for our team and for our program and university. We’re very humbled and we beat a really really good Robert Morris team today,” said Herenda.
“You’re seeing a Fairleigh Dickinson University you don’t see everyday,” said Herenda. “Since (new athletic director) Brad (Hurlbut) has gotten here, he has excited everybody, including our players.
“I will never ever forget what (retired athletic director) David Langford did, he gave me the opportunity to be a Division 1 head basketball coach. We won a championship with David, but right now after two weeks, I want to win one really bad for a lot of people, but for Brad Hurlbut as well,” Herenda said.
Asked about the comeback, Jenkins said: “I knew our team needed a spark in that moment, so I felt like I had to pick up my energy.”
“It would mean everything,” (to win his second NEC championship),” said Edge. “Winning it my first year as a freshman, I set the bar up really high. Last year we were close to winning it, but lost by 1 point in the semis. Just to get back there is a great achievement, but to win it again would be the icing on top of a good career.”
The Knights will travel to Loretto, Pa., to take on the No. 1 seed Saint Francis University on Tuesday, March 12, for the NEC Championship.
The Knights defeated Saint Francis 79-61 on January 5. The Knights then lost 87-62 to Saint Francis on Feb. 14.
This game will be the rubber match with a NCAA tournament appearance hanging in the balance.