COLUMBUS, Ohio – Tobin Anderson called his shot.
And 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson had its head coach’s back Friday night at Nationwide Arena.
Playing in his hometown, Sean Moore scored 19 points, and the Knights made Purdue just the second No. 1 seed to lose to a 16th seed in NCAA Tournament history with a shocking 63-58 victory.
Anderson, who guided a remarkable turnaround for FDU in his first season, said he believed his team could beat the Boilermakers during a locker room video that went viral moments after the Knights routed Texas Southern 84-61 in the First Four on Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
For much of this first-round matchup, FDU indeed appeared to be the better team.
“They earned it,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “They played better than we did. They coached better than we did, and we have to sit in it. We gotta face it. We’ve got to deal with it, and we’ve got to come back stronger.
“But that will take time. That will take time.”
National Player of the Year front-runner Zach Edey was his usual productive self with 21 points and 15 rebounds despite being the focal point of the Knights’ defense, but Purdue (29-6) could do little to help him.
The Boilermakers – seeded fourth overall in the 68-team field – shot just 5-of-26 from 3-point range and turned the ball over 16 times against one of the nation’s lowest-rated defenses.
“I think we got a little rattled,” freshman guard Fletcher Loyer said. “We were a little panicked early on. But a game like that, you can’t be panicked. You’ve got to go out there and let them know who is boss.”
More stunningly, Purdue failed to truly utilize its overall size advantage.
The Boilermakers were outscored 18-16 in the paint in the first half and surrendered nine offensive rebounds to the quicker – and often hungrier – Knights.
“I thought the style – our style is hard to play against,” Anderson said. “I’m sure the Big Ten teams don’t press as much. Our quickness, our speed – my dad was a big boxing fan. Styles make fights, and our style – I thought – hurt them a little bit.”
After trailing 32-31 at intermission, Purdue built its biggest lead at 47-41 after Edey made the second of two free-throw attempts with 11:41 remaining in the second half. But FDU (21-15) dominated the rest of the game.
The Knights’ comeback began with a traditional three-point play by guard Demetre Roberts, who then cut the deficit to a single point with a jumper on the next possession.
After Grant Singleton made a 3-pointer from the corner for a 49-47 lead with 9:56 to play, the “FDU” chants cascading from the rafters throughout the night became deafening.
“We heard the chants, and that just made us want to go out at it harder,” Singleton said.
The Boilermakers briefly regained the lead when Edey made a layup and a free throw on separate possessions. But the Knights went back in front for good on a traditional three-point play by Joe Munden Jr. with 8:19 left.
Moore pushed the advantage to 54-50 with a jumper before Loyer buried a 3-pointer with 7:10 to go.
The Boilermakers didn’t score again for nearly six minutes.
“They’d full front, and they would sit someone underneath the rim, which makes it very hard to get catches and get into a flow and rhythm,” Edey said. “Credit to them. They had a great game plan coming in, and they executed it very well.”
Moore broke the stalemate for both teams with a pair of free throws to make it 56-53 at the 2:50 mark, and he added a layup with 1:36 to play to put the underdogs in front by five.
Loyer answered with another 3-pointer with 1:25 remaining, but Moore responded with a dagger 3-pointer of his own at the other end, and Purdue was unable to catch up.
Loyer cut the deficit to 61-58 with 55 seconds left, and Edey blocked Singleton’s shot on the other end.
After a timeout with 18.9 seconds to play, Purdue’s Braden Smith tried to drive for a layup but was blocked by Moore.
The Boilermakers pulled down the offensive rebound, but Loyer’s tying 3-point attempt was long with eight seconds remaining, and Roberts got the defensive board as the upset-minded crowd roared.
Mason Gillis fouled Roberts, who hit both free throws to ice the upset.
“Our job was to come into the game and … throw a punch,” Roberts said. “We knew they would throw multiple punches. Just throw a punch back. We knew what type of game this was.
“And, man, it was a game of runs. And we showed why we belong here. Credit to Purdue, but we do what we have to do, and now we on to the next one.”
Loyer finished with 13 points, and Gillis added 10 points and seven rebounds for Purdue, which shot just 35.8% from the floor.
Roberts scored 12 points, and Cameron Tweedy had 10 off the bench for the conquering Knights.
The University of Maryland-Baltimore County was the only previous No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1, dropping Virginia 74-54 in the opening round of the 2018 tourney.
Now the Retrievers have company in the history books.
“That’s a Big Ten powerhouse,” Anderson said of the Boilermakers. “What they do there is incredible. I kind of felt bad the last couple days about what I said in the locker room because it was almost a slight to Purdue. I have unbelievable respect for Purdue. I thought they produce tremendous respect.
“For us to beat them tonight, in this environment, it was just an incredible win for us. I’m so proud of the guys – what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished so far – and just an incredible night.”
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