Twenty-five years before knocking off Purdue, Fairleigh Dickinson gave UConn a tourney scare
Mar. 18—ALBANY, N.Y. — The Fairleigh Dickinson men's basketball team became the darlings of the 2023 NCAA tournament thanks to their upset win over No. 1 seed Purdue in the first round Friday.
It was just the second time in tournament history that a 16 seed beat a one seed and was the program's first NCAA tournament win after the First Four round.
Twenty-five years earlier though, the Knights almost made some history at the expense of UConn.
It was the 1998 NCAA tournament and 15th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson was up against the second-seeded Huskies in the first round in Washington, D.C. Current UConn assistant coach Tom Moore was in his first stint as an assistant with Huskies that season and the game still stands out in his mind.
"I remember Elijah Allen torching us," Moore said with a laugh. "He was terrific. He was a little, lefty, shifty guard. A lot of quickness, a lot of handles, a lot of scoring. I remember him playing out of high ball screens and single-handily keeping them in the game for a long time."
UConn would go on to top the Knights 93-85 to avoid becoming just the fourth No. 2 seed to fall to a 15 seed at the time, but not before they were taken to the limit by Allen and the Knights.
"I remember just how shocking that game was," current Huskies coach Dan Hurley, who was an assistant at Rutgers at the time, said with a laugh.
Allen is no stranger to the Hurley family. He played high school basketball at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, New Jersey, a rival of the St. Anthony team Dan's father Bob Hurley Sr. coached for decades.
"I think it's always been said about the NCAA tournament that guards become a big factor," Hurley Sr. said. "I don't remember exactly what he had (that game), but it was ridiculous."
Allen, who's now in the Fairleigh Dickinson Hall of Fame, finished the game with 43 points — including nine in the final 1:11 of the contest— eight rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes of action. He shot 14-of-17 from the floor, including 6-of-7 from deep, and was 9-for-11 at the foul line.
"As I remember, I didn't get the feeling ever that we would lose, I don't think there was any kind of panic about us," Moore said. "But he almost single-handily made it interesting."
UConn led 46-40 at the half but couldn't land the finishing punch it had become accustomed to in recent years — UConn had won its first-round game by at least 17 points in five of the previous six tournaments.
"The game was a lot closer than we would've liked," Moore said. "It got really, we were comfortable with that group playing fast, but I think in games like that looking back, when we were a one or a two seed, we would usually overpower a team like that. It wouldn't feel as loose and as fast paced as that night felt."
In the end though, the Huskies prevailed behind a combined 58 points from Khalid El-Amin and Richard Hamilton. UConn would advance to the Elite Eight round of the tournament that year before falling to North Carolina. The Huskies would win their first national championship the following season.
Fairleigh Dickinson wouldn't make the tournament again until 2005 and wouldn't win its first tournament game until the 2019 First Four.
Games like UConn's against the Knights in 1998 or Fairleigh Dickinson's triumph over Purdue Friday could serve as a reminder to the current Huskies that anything can happen in March.
But Moore said the team is well aware of what can happen during the NCAA tournament.
"Dan has done a great job of messaging with these guys all year," he said. "They're so in tune with what's going on this whole week that in this day and age, you don't really even need to remind them too much of that. So, we didn't make big deal of the Princeton game or the FDU game yesterday. We're just sort of staying in our lane and trying to get our prep as good as it is."
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