Fairleigh Dickinson continued to win the top four

DAYTON, Ohio — Fairleigh Dickinson finished the 2021-22 season with four wins, five fewer than 358 teams in Division I. The school hired Tobin Anderson as coach in May, just as many transfers were deciding their next destinations.

The Knights began play in November with the shortest and youngest roster in Division I.

Five months later, the Knights will play in the NCAA Tournament in the first four games they’ve never trailed after an 84-61 win over Texas Southern on Wednesday night. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson won its second straight tournament game against No. 1 seed Purdue in the East Regional on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

“I wouldn’t believe you,” junior guard Joe Munden said when asked what he thought of such a drastic change. “It’s a testament to how much faith we have in our coach and the guys around me.”

Anderson needed key players like Munden (17 points) and Ansley Almonor (23 points, eight rebounds) to stay and improve. He also had to revamp the roster with players who know how to win.

Anderson looked to his former team, Division II. St. Thomas Aquinas added guards Demeter Roberts and Grant Singleton. They’ve made four NCAA Tournament appearances, three Sweet 16 appearances and one Elite Eight and entered Wednesday with a 13-5 postseason record.

“Grant and Mitch, they know how to win and they’ve been in big situations,” Anderson said. “Before the game, I didn’t say much to them, just ‘Hey, what are we going to do?’ When I looked into Mitch’s eyes and saw the twinkle in his eyes, I had a good feeling what was going to happen. He wanted to play tonight.

“He thinks he should be here. It’s not a surprise to him.”

Roberts had 15 points and four assists, while Singleton had 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists. All five Knights players scored in double figures.

Fairleigh Dickinson opened the game on a 14-2 run and had 10 or more points in the final 25:24. Singleton said getting up early settled any nerves and helped the players “get used to this stage”. Anderson joked that he did the “least coaching” of any game this season.

“Honestly, I was ready for the trip, but they played so well, I didn’t have to do much,” Anderson said. “I was surprised how well we played.”

Anderson Fairley predicted Dickinson’s preseason will finish a few more wins than it did in 2021-22. He made sure the players knew about the low external expectations.

“Four [wins] 20 and four NCAA first-round wins is incredible,” he said.

In order to win No. 21, the Little Knights will have to upset Purdue, led by 7-foot-4 All-American center Zach Eadie. Fairleigh Dickinson’s average player height is just 6-foot-1, making it the smallest team in Division I, according to Ken Pomeroy’s research.

Texas Southern scored 46 points in the paint, but second-chance opportunities were limited. Edey poses a different problem.

“I’ve never met anybody who’s 7-4,” said Almonor, a 6-foot-6 forward who could be assigned to Edey. “I’ll try to get a little into his legs. “Tall guys don’t like people getting on their feet.”

While Tobin grew up in Iowa and often watches Big Ten basketball, Fairley noted that much of Dickinson’s motion offense mirrors Purdue’s.

“It’s going to be a tall, tall order for us on Friday night, but our guys are going to compete,” Anderson said. “We do what we do.”

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