By Justin Rimpi
DAYTON, Ohio — The Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson University defeated Prairie View A&M, 82-76, in a “First Four” NCAA tournament game at University of Dayton Arena on Tuesday night.
The game was nationally broadcast on truTV and played in front of a near sell-out crowd in Dayton on the campus of the University of Dayton. FDU alumni had watch parties in Ohio and New Jersey. A busload of fans left campus early Tuesday to attend the game, arriving a couple of hours before tip off.
“On behalf of our team, I cannot thank you enough for waking up early and coming to cheer us on,” FDU head coach Herenda said to the fans who followed the team 9 hours to Dayton. “I want to thank FDU and everyone that has ever worn the Burgundy and Blue.”
The 21-13 Knights will head to Salt Lake City, Utah, where they will take on the No.1 seeded team in the West region, the Bulldogs of Gonzaga, at 7:27 p.m. Thursday.
Entering Tuesday night’s game, the Northeast Conference champion Knights were 14-2 in their last 16 games and now have won nine in a row.
Prairie View had won 21 of their last 22 and 11 in a row and are now 0-2 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
The Knights were 0-5 in their previous NCAA tournament appearances, losing in 2016 their last visit to the “Big Dance.”
Senior all-NEC guard Darnell Edge of Saugerties, N.Y., scored a career-high 33 points to lead the Knights and knocked down two free throws to the ice the game and send them onto the next round. He hit all seven of his attempts from the charity stripe.
“It’s a great feeling and it’s history,” said Edge.
Edge, the nation’s fourth ranked 3-point shooter, hitting just under 47 percent of his shots from deep, knocked down seven from long-range in the the game.
A 3-point field goal by senior guard Gary Braxton cut the Knights’ lead down to 78-76 with 45 seconds remaining, but that is when Edge played hero for the Knights.
Sophomore guard Jahlil Jenkins chipped in with 22 of his own and ignited the comeback in the second half by scoring 20 in the second half . Junior forward Kaleb Bishop added 10 in the second half.
“Coach Herenda is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. We had to win this game for him and for our fans,” said Jenkins.
“Jahlil Jenkins has the biggest heart of anyone in Ohio,” said Herenda. “Jahlil is so easy to root for and such a great guy. We are lucky to have him.”
The Panthers were led by Braxton who scored 27.
The Panthers went cold from the field in the final minutes of the second half and this allowed the Knights to go on a 10-0 run over an almost three-minute span that saw the Knights leading 73-66 with just under three minutes remaining.
A Jenkins’ 3-pointer put the Knights up 68-66 with just over four minutes remaining, their largest lead of the game up until that point.
A Jenkins’ layup tied the game 59-59 with 7:29 remaining.
After a layup by Holloway Jr., the Knights led 61-59 with 6:47 remaining.
The Knights blocked the Panthers seven times in the second half as their size seemed to take a toll on the smaller Panthers team.
The Knights’ strong play coming out of halftime swung the momentum of the game and allowed the FDU fan section to try and get the Knights over the edge.
The Knights were able to chip away at the lead and trailed 56-53 with 10 minutes remaining in the contest.
The Panthers were fourth in the nation, forcing 18 turnovers a game, entering the contest and second in the nation in turnover margin, forcing five more turnovers per game than their opponent. The Knights struggled with the press of the Panthers and committed 17 turnovers.
The Panthers went into halftime leading 41-34. Red-shirt junior guard Chancellor Ellis and Blackston led the Panthers, each scoring nine points in the half.
The Panthers shot 47 percent from the field and 64 percent from deep in the first half. Ellis hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half.
The Knights struggled in shooting in the first half as they hit 41 percent from the field and 36 percent from downtown.
Edge scored 18 points to lead the Knights in the half. Edge shot 6-10 from the field and 4-6 from behind the 3-point arc in the first half. The Panthers did not have an answer for Edge in the first half.
Foul trouble for Knights sophomore forward Elyjah Williams caused him to take a seat on the bench with just under 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Williams finished the half with 5 points.
A hot shooting start by the Panthers — in addition to forcing the Knights to commit costly turnovers — with a pressing defense helped the Panthers lead 19-11 midway through the first half of play.
The Knights committed 10 turnovers in the first half.
Edge’s first 3-point field goal of the game broke the Knights’ all-time record with 194 made 3’s in his college career. Edge broke the tie with Mustafa Jones who graduated from FDU in 2015.
Sophomore guard Xzavier Malone-Key, averaging 11.4 points per game, was inactive for the fourth game in a row due to a concussion.
The Panthers finished the season 22-13 and ultimately could not muster enough offense down the stretch of the second half. The Knights executed well enough down the stretch to keep their NCAA tournament dream alive.
Anthony Covino photo