By Justin Rimpi
The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, to take on the No. 1 seed in the West region, the Gonzaga Bulldogs Thursday at 6:27 p.m. on truTv.
Gonzaga is a private Jesuit university located in Spokane, Wash., with an enrollment of 7,500. The team played in the national championship game in 2017 and has made 20 straight NCAA tourney appearances, advancing to the round of 16 eight times and the round of eight three times.
The 21-13 Knights advanced to the first bracket round of the 2019 NCAA tournament, defeating Prairie View A&M 82-76 Tuesday night in a “First Four” game played in Dayton, Ohio.
This is the sixth time the Knights have played in the NCAA tournament. The Knights were last in the NCAA tournament in 2016 where they also played in Dayton for a “First Four” game. The Knights lost to Florida Gulf Coast, 96-65.
“It’s overwhelming,” Greg Herenda, in his sixth season at FDU, said in an Associated Press article Wednesday. “When you coach for 35 years and you take a team to an NCAA Tournament and a team that, when I got here six years ago, we had nothing. And to build it, and then it’s here, and it’s so sad that every coach can’t experience this.”
The Knights are led by senior guard Darnell Edge who scored a career-high 33 points in Dayton. Edge averages 16.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting from 3-point territory.
Sophomore guard Jahlil Jenkins scored 20 points in the second half against Prairie View in a performance that had him trending on Twitter as he helped extend the Knights’ season at least one more game. Jenkins averaged 13.8 ppg during the season.
The backcourt of combo of Jenkins and Edge are the engine that makes this team go and will need to be at their best as the Knights prepare for their toughest test yet.
According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Knights have a 0.8 percent chance of winning the game and are 26.5 point underdogs.
The 30-3 Bulldogs, ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press poll, are led by junior forward 6-8 Rui Hachimura, who averages 20.1 points per game this season and one of four finalists for the Naismith National Player of the Year award. Redshirt 6-8 junior forward Brandon Clarke contributes 16.5 points this season.
The Knights have won 15 of their last 17 and nine in a row heading into Salt Lake City. This hot streak led to the Knights winning the Northeast Conference tournament and their first tourney win.
The Knights are peaking at the right time, and that may play in their favor as they head into Thursday’s game with only a handful of individuals expecting them to advance.
With a win Thursday, FDU will become the first No. 16 seed to ever win two games in the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs are entering the tournament with a foul taste in their mouths after being defeated by Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference tournament.
Gonzaga looks to bounce back against FDU as they seek their first NCAA championship in school history and first for Bulldogs’ head coach Mark Few as well. Few is in his 20th season as the head coach.
The Zags are first in the nation in field goal percentage (53.2), scoring margin (23.8), scoring offense (88.8), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.76).
FDU has an uphill climb ahead of them tomorrow, but are entering the tournament red hot.
Herenda won his first NCAA tournament game on Tuesday and is less than a year removed from being in a San Antonio intensive care unit after he suffered blot clots while attending last year’s Final Four.
This was a historic night for both Herenda and the Knights as they continued their great season.
“We have to go to Utah, stay close and take a lead,” said Herenda. “You may think I’m crazy but I believe that we can do that.”
“We know it’s going to be hard, but we’re hard to guard. We’re going out there to win a basketball game,” Herenda said.
The Knights hope that history can repeat itself just more a year later as a No. 16 seed topples a heavily favored top seed for the second time in tournament history.
|Points Per Game||75.6||88.8|
|Points Allowed Per Game||71.4||65.1|
|Field Goal Percentage||48%||53.2%|
|3-Point Field Goal Percentage||40.5%||36.5%|
|Opponent’s Field Goal Percentage||44.2%||38.9%|
|Rebounds Per Game||33.1||38.6|
|Turnovers Per Game||13.5||10.4|
|Turnovers forced Per Game||14.6||13.5|
|Steals Per Game||7.5||7.5|
|Assists Per Game||14.1||18.2|
|Blocks Per Game||3.8||5.5|