‘Big-Little’ Jersey Win in NCAA

FDU unleashed a torrent of three-pointers and stormed past the Texas Southern Tigers 84-61 Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, in the “First Four” play-in to the big dance, the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tourney.

The 16th-seeded Knights, the tournament’s “Who’s that?” team, won for the 20th time in 35 games this season and now will make the 70-mile jaunt to Columbus to face top-seeded Purdue Friday at 6:30 p.m.

The Northeast Conference runner-up, FDU earned an automatic tourney berth because champion Merrimack is ineligible. FDU, at 6-4 average in height, is the shortest team in the tourney. But these li’l Knights can shoot! And, by winning in the first night of the tournament, bracketarians now have their first underdog over performing.

The Knights rolled out a 16-point lead at the half and, for the game, swished 11 of 27 three-pointers, went 23-for-46 on 2-pointers and hit 27-for-31 at free-throw line against the Tigers (14-21).

“Our offense has been great, we’ve been sharing the ball, taking good shots,” said coach Tobin Anderson in a halftime interview on the TruTV broadcast. “They are tough kids that compete. I knew they wouldn’t be bothered by the stage at all. They are New York City-New Jersey guys. They’re not afraid of anything.”

The win had sportscasters seeking parallels from last year’s Cinderella appearance by fellow Garden State small college St. Peter’s, which upset No. 2 Kentucky last year. Today’s game compounded it: Jersey has game. Texas can brag, too, with seven teams in the tournament. New Jersey has FDU and Princeton. Big littles.

Forward Ansley Almonor led the Knights with 23 points and eight rebounds. He was coming off a career-high of 25 against Merrimack in the Northeast Conference tourney finals, a 67-66 loss.

Joe Munden Jr. scored 17 as the starting 5 all hit double-digits — Demetre Roberts (15), Grant Singleton (13) and Sean Moore (10). Every Knight got into the game, FDU’s first visit to the tournament since the 2019 team beat Prairie View in the First Four and then fell to No. 1 Gonzaga, 87-49.

FD Who? FDU!

“People know who FDU is now . . . We’re pretty damn good,” Anderson said after the game in a tweet shared by @NECsports.

A Midwesterner whose father was a basketball coach, Anderson now has his first D-1 team in the tournament, in a career that has tracked from D-III to D-II. Will reality hit Friday against Purdue?

“I want Purdue to see this,” he said in a locker room talk after the game, on live TV. “The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them.”

FDU basketball player moves his team tag to the next round of play in the NCAA Division 1 men's basketball tournament.

(Screengrab from TruTV coverage)

Ansley Almonor moves FDU’s bracket nameplate into the next round of play in the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio.