FDU’s stunning upset of No. 1-seed Purdue not a shocker to coaches at Hartford, CCSU, Yale
Fairleigh Dickinson lost to UHart and Central Connecticut during the regular season, so to most their historic upset of Purdue in the NCAA Tournament was a shock.
It wasn’t to those who know Knights coach Tobin Anderson, who played at Wesleyan and has put himself on the coaching map with his bold style and this major upset. FDU plays Florida Atlantic in the second round Sunday.
“I’m not surprised, he’s a great coach, he’s a great basketball mind and he really knows how to motivate his players,” said Yale associate head coach Matt Kingsley, who was Anderson’s teammate at Wesleyan in 1994-95. “A lot of people when they saw that matchup thought of Saint Peter’s, and the quickness on the perimeter, the ability to run and jump and press and throw the rhythm off. It’s just been amazing to see.”
Saint Peter’s was the upset darling from New Jersey in the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The upset-filled first round this week featured two teams from Jersey, FDU, which became only the second No. 16 seed to win a first-round game, and Princeton, a No. 15 that knocked off No. 2 Arizona, 59-55, on Thursday.
Saint Peter’s and Princeton were conference tournament champs. FDU (22-15) won neither the regular season nor tournament title in the NEC, but got the conference’s bid because champion Merrimack is still “transitioning” to Division I.
Anderson, 51, who was captain of Herb Kenny’s last team at Wesleyan and scored 1,129 points there, coached at Division III Hamilton and D-II St. Thomas Aquinas (both located in N.Y.) before landing the FDU job last May.
“Tobin has done an unbelievable job and you root for a guy like him because he’s a journeyman,” UHart coach Tom Devitt said. “The key with Fairleigh Dickinson, it all boils down to a math equation. They’re top 60 in the country in securing the ball, they don’t turn it over much, but they couple that with turning you over. Ultimately, they typically get more shots at the rim than you do.”
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Hartford (5-22) is transitioning to Division III, but got one of its two D-1 wins over visiting FDU, 74-66, on Nov. 30 despite turning the ball over 23 times to FDU’s 10.
“We were very fortunate to shoot a high percentage on threes (9 for 20) and from the line (21 for 26),” Devitt said.
Central Connecticut, an NEC rival, lost at home to FDU, 88-80, on Jan. 14, but won a rematch in Hackensack, N.J., 77-73 on Feb. 11. The Blue Devils committed a manageable 13 turnovers in the second contest.
“When you’re in a tournament setting and it’s a short prep time, their style is right in your face and they come at you very hard,” Central coach Patrick Sellers said. “The pressing style they play, they want to speed you up. Their guards can really control the game. It’s hard to duplicate their pressure [in practice]. We didn’t get rattled by the pressure, we got the ball over half court and were able to execute some stuff in the half court setting.”
FDU began the tournament with a win over Texas Southern in the First Four, after which Anderson was caught on video telling his team, “the more I see Purdue, the more I think we can beat them.” The Knights, the smallest team in Division I by average height , were not afraid of the big Boilermakers, won the turnover battle 16-9 and took nine more shots in winning 63-58.
Central, 10-22, was 7-9 in the conference, with a number of close losses. Sellers looks forward to the increased profile for the NEC.
“Recruiting-wise, it helps the whole league,” Sellers said. “It tells people around the country we play good basketball in this league and we have some great coaches. Tobin’s a great coach.”
Princeton lost twice to Yale during the season, but won the Ivy League final to get its crack at Arizona.
“I felt like we helped prepare Princeton for that game, because that’s how they had to play us in order to be successful in that championship game,” Kingsley said. “Control the paint, keep us off the boards. It helps when you have some continuity from one opponent to the next. I’m not surprised a team from our league was capable of doing that.”